As it prepares for the launch of a smart home interoperability standard, the Zigbee Alliance has changed its name to the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) and will broaden its scope. At the same time, the working group within the CSA previously known as Project Connected Home over IP has adopted Matter as its formal brand. The CSA also said the Matter specification is final and is ready for testing.
Matter is the newest hope for consumer electronics companies to try and solve the problem of interoperability for the smart home. In December 2019 Apple, Amazon, Google, Samsung, and others said they would work on building an application layer standard so devices in the home would be able to communicate. It is and was a big deal as the numerous ecosystems and walled gardens associated with smart home devices had frustrated consumers and developers.
With Matter, consumers won’t have to research if their Nest cameras will work with their Schlage locks or if their HomeKit compatible sensors will also work with Alexa, for example. Developers won’t have to keep up with multiple ecosystems and integrations. Initially, this will only work across a limited number of devices, but those devices include lighting, blinds, HVAC, TVs, access controls, safety & security products, access points, smart home controllers, and bridges.
Matter will create an IP-based interoperability layer between devices at the application layer. Most smart home devices might interoperate at the networking layer (this is where protocols like Z-wave or Zigbee come in). But network compatibility doesn’t mean a light bulb can communicate with any light switch or a security sensor can communicate with a different platform. Matter will enable a standardized data model for devices so a certified product can communicate what it is and what it can do to other certified products.
And it makes sense that Connectivity Standards Alliance would get a new name as the mission of the organization is expanding. The organization will continue to support the Zigbee standard, but it’s likely that the bulk of the organization’s work going forward will focus on Matter as it has a much larger market and more potential. Tobin Richardson, the president and CEO of the CSA, said that the organization will also expand its standards work to an additional three or four connectivity protocols for the smart home. He declined to say what those other standards might cover.
The CSA will also add lobbying to its mission and has decided to take a global perspective on issues such as data privacy and security. To that end, it will work with the World Economic Forum Council on the Connected World to contribute to a global conversation about the role of smart home technology. Richardson also gave lip service to sustainability and connected devices, as well as security, equity, and inclusion.
The CSA is also focused on releasing as much as it can as open-source code, which strikes me as somewhat incongruous with the fact that to see or vote on the developing standard, companies had to pay to join the CSA and the Matter working group. However, the code is all available on Github, and anyone will be able to see it and download it for their applications and devices.
Richardson also said that the certification is now feature-complete, which means that we shouldn’t expect significant changes ahead of the fall release. It may get tweaks as device testing begins and manufacturers spot issues, but we should still be on track to see a few Matter-certified products before the end of this year, with more expected in 2022.
We also received a bit of clarity on how Matter will work with multi-ecosystem households, such as those that might have a HomeKit user and an Amazon Alexa device. A video released as part of the rebranding, promises that with the Matter standard, devices from multiple ecosystems will work together without the homeowner having to manually add the devices to multiple ecosystems. That’s great news for people like me who have a plethora of devices from many vendors, but I want to wait to pass judgment until I’ve tried it in real life.
The video’s narrator calls the feature Multi-Admin, and promises that “users can connect devices to multiple apps and multiple ecosystems locally, securely and simultaneously.” It also sounds like users will also be able to grant control of devices at an individual level, which means that connecting a Nest account to an Amazon Echo might not require adding all of the devices associated with that Nest account. This could make it easier to put a controller of some sort in a guest bedroom letting your guest have access to some home controls, but not all of them.
Additionally, the folks behind Matter reiterated their commitment to using the standard for apartments and MDUs to make it easier for tenants to bring their own platforms and devices into a new home, without worrying about the existing infrastructure. As long as the existing infrastructure is Matter compliant, renters can bring their own Matter-compliant devices.
So, stay tuned as Project Connected Home over IP becomes Matter and the Connectivity Standards Alliance takes on more smart home standards.
Update: During a panel featuring representatives from several smart home device companies, we learned a bit more about how they plan to implement Matter and what users might expect. For example, George Yianni head of technology for Signify, says that existing nine-year-old Hue light bulbs will be updated to work with Matter, although you might have to purchase a new hub. He says we should expect compatible Hue products at the end of this year. Chris DeCenzo, from Amazon, mentioned that a Matter-compliant television might let consumers cast their content to devices regardless of the manufacturer.