The new global connectivity standard ‘Matter’ brings benefits for consumers and new demands for device manufacturers. If you are working with smart home solutions, plan your next actions.
A few years ago, a friend of mine built himself a smart home alarm system. Combining different devices was a painstaking effort, and yet building his own system from ground up was the only possible way to get different types and makes of smart home devices to work together. Luckily, smart home technology consolidation has already started improving interoperability and will deliver consumers more positive experiences.
CSA’s Matter standard is the next step in bringing the various types of smart home devices to a common ecosystem. The goal of the standard is to simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers. Smart home devices should be secure, reliable, and seamless to use. By building upon Internet Protocol (IP), Matter aims to enable communication across smart home devices, mobile apps, and cloud services and to define a specific set of IP-based networking technologies for device certification. Matter is driven by Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Connectivity Standards Alliance member companies.
Matter is not yet another single vertical technology stack from the ground up, aiming to replace the current vertical stacks. It follows the internet paradigms and allows many different types of devices to communicate. Matter leverages common and widely supported technologies, instead of trying to be the optimal point solution for anything specific. For example, if the devices support IPv6 – regardless of whether they are Bluetooth, WLAN, or IEEE 802.15.4/Thread devices – they can support Matter in addition to any existing uses. It also defines common data and messaging models and vocabulary so the devices and applications can co-operate without separate translations.
The origin of smart home technology started from narrow single use end-to-end solutions, having lots of competing vendors for devices such as wireless thermometers, switches, and automatic curtains. These devices tended to be simple with minimal software. With these types of products, it is practically impossible to leverage the connectivity and interoperability of todays’ IoT, cloud and data-driven world. With the proliferation of in-house wireless connectivity, always available internet connectivity and a lifestyle built on smart devices, any smart home solution not leveraging them is immediately disqualified from the competition.
Being successful in this connected environment brings its challenges, like security and the need to update the systems easily and often against any vulnerabilities and attacks. All of this requires software, so the traditional product model of connected devices - sensors, actuators, monitors, and controllers linking them – with minimal embedded software – is turning upside down. Software forms the core of the new model, and it then acts in the real world via many devices that may or may not be directly linked.
Technology consolidation in smart home industry started with various technology stack specifications and frameworks. These solutions originate both from open industry forums such as the former Zigbee Alliance (now Connectivity Standards Alliance), and from companies licensing their proprietary solutions such as Z-Wave and Apple HomeKit. These vertical stacks most often started from a single radio and network technology and built the communication protocols and data models on top, with no regard to horizontal interoperability.
As the marketplace decided which vertical stacks were able to build the critical mass of partners and products, attaining, for example, hardware radio chips for those stacks and devices became much easier. Radio chip makers and smart home product manufacturers had a common interface, and both could rely on there being multiple sellers and buyers for the chips.
Industry has also started looking outside pure smart home specifications. Bluetooth has solidified its position as the primary solution for personal devices, just like WLAN has become practically the only home network wireless solution. Bluetooth has allowed smart home devices to work seamlessly – with no extra infrastructure needed – with applications in smart phones, tablets, and laptops. WLAN has done the same for cloud connectivity.
There are now three main types of devices in the smart home:
Our ongoing work in The Connected Vehicle Systems Alliance (COVESA) for the automotive industry has taught us that a common technology stack is not enough for interoperability. Even if the devices all support IP protocols for communications, they are still not talking the same language. Using common protocols like IP gives us a common baseline across many different types of devices and physical networks. Something like HTTP then defines the various messages that can be sent.
Data models are just as important for interoperability. A common understanding of the application-level data and commands are needed so that the different devices can work together.
In the short term, as with all technology consolidation trends, there will be winners and losers. The companies that have invested in the other, incompatible vertical stacks that cannot utilise parts of their solutions separately for the new stacks will need to make a major decision. They need to decide whether they will keep investing in a technology stack that may divert from the more visible and more widely supported solutions.
So far, in most if not all technology areas, consolidation has created a positive feedback loop once it has reached sufficient uptake in the marketplace. Smart home consolidation started small and slow, but right now it is entering the biggest, fastest period of unifying technology solutions and improving possibilities for interoperability between major ecosystems.
The winners in the short term are the companies that can directly take into use and benefit from the market presence of the consolidated technologies. There’s now a clear view of the future development paths, with known technologies, tools, and products in place. Any devices using BT, WLAN and Zigbee can be used already today, and the adoption of the Matter standard will not render these uses obsolete.
In the long term, this consolidation benefits everyone in the value chain, from chipmakers to end-users. Hardware and software suppliers as well as product development support companies can focus on gaining skills on fewer technologies and platforms with a bigger market and less risk. This leads to product vendors having options for tools, platforms, and other components, as well as suppliers to choose from. This is in line with our experience from the automotive industry’s AUTOSAR standardized software platform.
End-users will reap the biggest benefits from this consolidation. This opens the door to interoperability and cooperation between separate ecosystems. Buying products to add to your smart home becomes easier and there will be more options as products transition from competing with technology stacks invisible to the end-user to competing with price, availability, features, and quality.
For companies that wish to shape the ecosystem and catch the first wave of the new smart home solutions, the time to act is now.
Our experienced software engineers and architects help smart home device manufacturers to develop and maintain software for smart home products. We are an active member of the Connectivity Standards Alliance contributing to the compatibility of smart home technologies among IoT products and ecosystems.
Markku Tamski has solid long-term experience in software and product development covering automotive as well as smart devices and connected services. His career includes working for 15+ years on leading-edge mobile device and connected service software technologies, and for the past 6+ years with automotive software and product development. During this time, he has worked in varied roles, such as crafting SW development processes and architectures, and leading development projects, software builds, releases and deliveries, as well as product and manufacturing quality assurance activities.