Matter Expands Opportunities for Smart Home Product Developers

Author : Finn Boetius, Product Marketing Engineer at Nordic Semiconductor

03 April 2024

Figure 1: Matter provides a standard application layer for use with a set of wireless protocols
Figure 1: Matter provides a standard application layer for use with a set of wireless protocols

By guaranteeing interoperability between Thread, Wi-Fi and Ethernet, Matter will make it easy for developers to build innovative devices for implementation in any home automation ecosystem. This article explores the array of possibilities.

After a slow start, the smart home sector is finally gaining traction. Analyst firms Statista predicts that this market will generate $154.4 billion in 2024. Of that, around $60 billion will be spent on smart appliances.

A buoyant market promises good returns for smart home devices. However, getting products onto the shelves isn’t easy. In addition to the obvious technical problems, developers face other challenges. Key among these is which smart home ecosystem to adopt. With Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, or Samsung SmartThings, plus some proprietary options too, it can be difficult to decide which way to turn. 

The good news is that these major manufacturers, plus many others serving the smart home sector, recognise the challenges facing developers and have come together under the auspices of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA). The result is Matter - a unifying IP-based connectivity protocol built on proven technologies, which makes it easier for developers to build reliable smart home products that seamlessly connect with IoT ecosystems.
 
There’s a growing range of Matter-certified products - with a report from tech intelligence firm ABI Research forecasting that more than 5.5 billion smart home devices compliant with the protocol will be shipped by 2030. But what exactly is Matter and how easy is it to incorporate into smart home products?

Inside Matter 
Matter is a wireless protocol that builds on the existing smart home wireless technologies of Thread and Wi-Fi (plus Bluetooth LE for commissioning). It provides a unifying application layer, enabling developers to ensure their products are compatible and interoperable with those from other manufacturers.

Figure 2: Bluetooth LE is used to commission Matter devices, but not for data transfer across the network
Figure 2: Bluetooth LE is used to commission Matter devices, but not for data transfer across the network

In a typical smart home set-up, lower power Matter devices would run across a Thread network, while devices with higher power and data bandwidth needs would use Wi-Fi. Thread and Wi-Fi support Internet Protocol (IP) - the proven, widely adopted technology which operates as a network layer communication standard for rapidly moving data across the Internet. Every Thread or Wi-Fi device has its own IP address, and interoperability with the protocol makes it very easy to connect each of them to the Cloud.

Is implementing Matter worthwhile?
Designing a Matter-compatible product adds complexity to the whole process, for example because there are strict security requirements (which do bring the advantage of making the products more trustworthy and protected). Also, introducing a Matter certified device to the market will be more costly than introducing one compatible with just a single global IoT ecosystem or a proprietary alternative.

Furthermore, a Matter-compatible device requires both Bluetooth LE and Thread connectivity (in the case of a Matter-over-Thread device) or Wi-Fi (for a Matter-over-Wi-Fi device), as well as enough computing power and memory to run the Matter stack. For over-the-air device firmware update (OTA-DFU) activities, the solution will demand up to 2x as much flash memory compared with the application software alone. A rule of thumb is that a minimum of 1MByte of built-in flash (plus the same amount of external flash) and 256kBytes of RAM are needed for a standard Matter device. Additional resources will be needed if the device is expected to do more than just run Matter.

Matter relies on the already widespread implementation of Wi-Fi access points (APs) that will enable interactions with appropriately conforming devices. Thread border routers are also required for Thread devices needing Internet connectivity for certain functionality (such as voice commands). Despite some challenges though, Matter is proving beneficial to the developer community, because by building compliant products, device manufacturers are freed from the constraints imposed by a single ecosystem. That makes the total addressable market for their devices 3x or 4x as large as it would be otherwise. Matter is also advantageous for consumers, as it means that they don’t have to commit to a single supplier for all their smart home appliances.
 
Bluetooth LE commissioning and Matter-over-Thread
Bluetooth LE is a mature low-power wireless technology that’s incorporated into almost all modern smartphone handsets. This is pivotal because smartphones form the perfect interface for setting up smart home gadgets. For that reason, Bluetooth LE is supported within the Matter standard for commissioning and configuration purposes. One downside of Bluetooth LE is a lack of interoperability with the IPv6 protocol - so it therefore requires a smartphone or other gateway device to connect to a Wi-Fi network.
  
In contrast, Thread is an IPv6-based mesh protocol, based on the IEEE 802.15.4 medium access control (MAC)/physical layer (PHY). It targets low bandwidth applications and brings good energy efficiency characteristics to simple devices like smart plugs or light bulbs. Thread is a self-healing, low-power mesh that can adapt to devices being added to or removed from the network. It offers low latency operation (because devices can talk directly to each other, without the need of an intermediate hub), built-in redundancy, plus extended battery life.

Figure 3: Thread is an IPv6-based mesh protocol and is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 MAC and PHY
Figure 3: Thread is an IPv6-based mesh protocol and is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 MAC and PHY

While Thread products can operate without Thread border routers, these are needed for Matter-over-Thread networks. Such routers allow Thread devices to access the local network and communicate with other IP-based devices like Wi-Fi products. Wi-Fi APs, smart speakers and light fixtures can incorporate thread border routers. Any thread border router can communicate with any Thread device on the same network - just like any Wi-Fi router can communicate with any Wi-Fi device. And once the Thread device is part of the Matter-over-Thread network, it can work with any Matter platform. 

Matter-over-Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi is critical to Matter’s success, because many smart home devices that are compatible with the standard use Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet, and exchange data with other devices and cloud-based services. For example, a Matter-compatible smart thermostat might use Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet so as to access weather information or energy usage data in order to improve its performance.

The currently adopted version of the Wi-Fi specification, Wi-Fi 6, has made the popular wireless technology better suited to IoT applications, such as those in used in home automation. The nRF70 series of Wi-Fi 6 companion ICs are part of the Nordic product portfolio. The nRF7002, for example, is a power-efficient Wi-Fi 6 device that provides seamless dual-band (2.4GHz and 5GHz) connectivity and strong coexistence with Bluetooth LE, Thread and Zigbee radios. 

The Matter application layer makes it simpler for Thread devices to communicate with a home Wi-Fi network and from there to the Cloud. Matter devices using Wi-Fi for network transport won’t need built-in support for mesh networking, because the reach of Wi-Fi 6 is such that a Matter device will be in range for most use cases.

Figure 4: Thread border routers allow Thread devices in the network to access the local network and communicate with other IP-based devices like Wi-Fi products
Figure 4: Thread border routers allow Thread devices in the network to access the local network and communicate with other IP-based devices like Wi-Fi products

Getting started with Matter
Silicon companies are making it easier for developers to embrace Matter in their new smart home products. Nordic, for instance, offers several ultra-low power, multi-protocol SoCs that support both Bluetooth LE and Thread protocols. The nRF52840 enables Bluetooth LE to be used for commissioning and Thread for data transfer. The company’s newly-announced nRF54H series and nRF54L series, with Arm Cortex-M33 application processors and ample memory, are optimised for next generation Matter-over-Thread end-products. 

The nRF Connect software development kit (SDK) supports Matter use case examples for weather stations, light bulbs, light switches, door locks, plus a matter to Bluetooth LE bridge. The weather station option remotely gathers temperature, air pressure and relative humidity data using sensors. It operates as a Matter accessory device and can pair as well as be remotely controlled via a Matter-over-Thread network. 

The latest updates to the standard
Version 1.2 of Matter was introduced in October 2023 - bringing revisions and additions to existing categories, as well as core improvements to the specification, etc. It also adds 9 new device types - refrigerators, room air conditioners, dishwashers, laundry washers, robotic vacuums, smoke/carbon monoxide alarms, air quality sensors, air purifiers and fans.

Core improvements that the Matter 1.2 specification benefits from include: 
•Enhancements that capture the common configuration of a combined latch and bolt lock unit.
•Added description of device appearance.
•The ability for devices to now be hierarchically composed from complex endpoints, thereby allowing for accurate modelling.
•Semantic tags for providing an interoperable way to describe the location and semantic functions of generic Matter clusters/endpoints to enable consistent rendering/application across the different clients. 
•Descriptions that allow for expression of the different operational modes of a device in a generic way, thus making it easier to generate new device types in future revisions of Matter.

Figujavascript:WebForm_DoPostBackWithOptions(new WebForm_PostBackOptions("ctl00$MainContent$btnImageAdd", "", true, "Image", "", false, true))re 5: Matter enables Thread and Wi-Fi networks to work together in harmony
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Matter 1.2 also offers important enhancements in the testing and certification program. This will help companies bring products (such as hardware, software, chipsets and supporting apps) to market faster. Other introductions include a Matter 1.2 SDK, which is available for new platforms and enhancements to the open-source Matter Test Harness. This harness helps ensure the specification and its features are being implemented correctly.

Better performance and security for the smart home 
The emergence of Matter heralds sustained long-term improvements in the quality and security of smart home products. With issues of interoperability resolved, device manufacturers can focus more on driving improvements in product quality and developing new features. And as Matter looks set to become a de facto smart home standard, it will also likely become easier to enforce a baseline of stronger and standardised security for appliances. 

Before Matter, home automation was popular with tech-savvy early adopters, but confusing for the mainstream market. Matter is now making it much more straightforward for consumers to adopt smart home technology and this is successfully stimulating the market. The smart home concept thus finally looks set to fulfil its expected promise.


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