Why Does ‘Matter’ Matter?

Why Does ‘Matter’ Matter?

Getting a home’s smart devices to communicate with each other.

There is a good chance that you have come across ‘Matter’ in recent news related to IoT and smart home. Matter was everywhere at CES 2022 and smart home ecosystems all talk about Matter when launching new devices. Matter helps IoT devices like your coffee maker and smart speaker talk to each other easily so that you as the end user don’t need to read complex user manuals or become an IoT connectivity expert. This article will explain what Matter is, how it is being developed and how Infineon can deliver Matter on Wi-Fi and Thread.

Matter is the new IoT standard that will improve interoperability, security, and ease-of-use across your smart home devices, regardless of who makes the device and what underlying connectivity technology it uses. Your smart home experience is in for a big change!

The Matter initiative started because major market players recognized that the existing smart home “walled gardens” are not quite working for either product development companies or consumers. Today, there are incompatible ecosystems between Apple, Amazon, and Google, so device makers and consumers have to make a choice or live with split systems in the home. On top of this challenge is the fundamental challenge of wireless device incompatibility across technologies: depending upon the application attribute, the device maker may choose Wi-Fi, BLE or Thread/ZigBee over 802.15.4 – e.g. a smart door lock could use Wi-Fi while a lightbulb could use Thread or ZigBee. The usage of multiple wireless technologies creates the need for gateway or bridge devices. The enthusiasm for Matter to become the solution for the smart home is driven by major smart home ecosystem players like Apple, Amazon, and Google under the auspices of the Connectivity Standards Alliance standardization body, and it has resulted in hundreds of companies coming together and collaborating on the specification development, open source software development, testing and certification efforts.

The Matter development effort is not just another standards development effort. The Matter efforts include:

  1. The Matter specification itself, including a device library and application functionality.
  2. An open source software effort in Github to allow anyone to use Matter.
  3. A testing and certification effort including a test harness to validate and certify devices before they can use the Matter logo on the product.

Since Matter is built on top of standard Internet Protocol IPv6, it is agnostic to the underlying communication medium, allowing application to application communication regardless of whether one application is sending data over Wi-Fi and the other one is receiving over Thread. Initially, support will be provided on Wi-Fi, Ethernet and Thread (a low power, low data rate network built on IEEE 802.15.4 wireless devices). Matter also provides standard bridging functionality to allow ZigBee devices and other deployed devices to appear as native Matter devices, ensuring consumers can continue to use these devices as Matter becomes more widespread.

For consumers, announcements from Apple, Google, Amazon and other ecosystem providers indicating native support for Matter with software updates in 2022 and making it easy-to-use are positive signs. Consumers will be able to easily and securely bring in a new Matter device like a light bulb which will seamlessly interact with other Matter devices. New devices can be purchased with confidence that they will interoperate with those existing devices in the home.

Matter also provides new avenues for device makers. They no longer need to support different wireless technologies and protocols depending on the ecosystem they are trying to connect with. Support from all the major brands means device makers can use Matter in their new products and improve their customer satisfaction because of the seamless installation and operation, and reduce product and support costs.

Matter 1.0 is expected to be released in summer 2022 and will support Wi-Fi, Thread and Ethernet, along with Bluetooth Low Energy for commissioning. While Matter does not support ZigBee, it does support ZigBee Bridge devices which run Matter-over-Wi-Fi or Thread. Infineon is one of the companies supporting Matter development on the company’s platforms. Infineon Wi-Fi products (e.g. PSoC® 6) are already running Matter and the team is currently completing Matter-over-Thread for 15.4 product and actively integrating Matter into our roadmap products. For enhanced security, Infineon’s OPTIGA™ TPM products are recommended to be included with Matter devices so they are protected with the best hardware-based security. Infineon can also handle manufacturers requirements on device certificates, saving them the need to set this up on their manufacturing line.

How does Matter work exactly?

Let’s provide some background so the implications of Matter are clear. What is an application layer? For those that follow the 7 layers of the OSI Reference Model of Computer Networking, the application layer is the highest layer and closest to the end user. In our normal day-to-day lives, we use HTTP as an application layer for presenting information in your web browser. However, in your browser, what is presented can be interpreted by you as the user and adjusted. If your browser shows a web page in German, you have learned to find and click on a button to change it to English (or vice versa). For device-to-device communication, this application layer becomes very important as devices cannot rely on user interpretation but need to fully understand a message or command from another device. Examples include specifying how a light switch should talk to a light bulb, or how a thermostat should communicate with a furnace.

What does Matter define for its application layer? Matter defines many parts, but they can be grouped into three primary areas:

  • The installation and setup of a device for a consumer
  • How devices send and receive messages from each other and the contents of these messages
  • The security requirements for the device and these interactions

By defining a standard for each of these areas, Matter will establish reliable device-to-device interoperability and promote greater consumer confidence. Let’s look at each of these areas in a little more detail.

The installation and setup of a device includes a number of steps. First is the installation of the device onto a consumer’s home network. This is done using a simple pairing mechanism supported by Apple, Google, Amazon, and others so that in your home ecosystem of choice, your device(s) will be recognized with its security and identity and validated before being added to your network. Once a device has been securely added, the consumer can name the device, pair it with other devices, and setup normal operations such as schedules on a thermostat or lighting intensity on a bulb. Once this is completed, the device is ready for normal operation.

Matter also defines application level messaging, the data types and formats, and the security. This sounds simple but is built on years of device definition from the ZigBee data models, which were used as the basis for Matter. For example, a thermostat must support heating and cooling but optionally can support occupancy sensing, a weekly schedule, or user configurable setbacks. Because the behavior and messaging for these functions are fully defined, heating and air conditioning manufacturers can include these features and know that the relevant user controls will be built into common user interface devices such as an iPhone, Android device, or Alexa voice activated speaker.

Matter represents a substantial increase in device security, enabling a number of best practices. Most importantly, devices will have a certificate loaded during manufacturing that can be used to validate that the device has completed Matter certification and was legitimately built by a certified manufacturer. Once a device joins a network, the device receives an operational certificate to establish secure communications within the network. Matter also requires all devices to support secure over-the-air software updates allowing devices to be upgraded and patched if problems occur.

You will be hearing a lot more about Matter in 2022, with millions of products supporting Matter with a software update, plus new devices being launched with Matter in the second half of the year. Rapid adoption is expected in the smart home category, supported by major global brand companies that have already pledged their support for this unifying standard.

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