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What is Matter? (The smart home standard)

turned-on charcoal Google Home Mini and smartphone
Matter and Thread: The technology standardising the smart home

Buying smart home products can be fraught with confusion. Want to buy a Nest Camera, for example? That won’t work with Apple’s HomeKit. And many need some sort of hub too. This is where Matter and Thread come in.

Matter aims to bring all smart home kit and Internet of Things (IoT) devices under one standard, so you can be sure that one piece of kit you buy will work with any other bit of kit.

It’s not just the standard itself that’s being addressed, but the way devices communicate. Wi-Fi is great but consumes a lot of power. Bluetooth uses less energy and is cheaper to implement, but the lack of range means that often need a hub to communicate with. Apple Homekit uses Bluetooth, Google Nest uses Wi-Fi and anything making use of Zigbee relies on its own wireless alternative. In the same way that Matter aims to unify the communications, Thread aims to harmonise the way devices communicate.

Here’s the full lowdown on what Matter and Thread will do.

Matter: One standard to rule them all

The Matter logo

Matter is the home automation connectivity standard that was previously called CHIP (Project Connected Home over IP). It’s being promoted by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), whose members include Amazon, Apple, Google, Huawei, Ikea and the Zigbee Alliance, among others.

The support of those big names is crucial, because it massively increases the chances of creating one standard that will work with all devices, instead of lots of competing standards each backed by different companies.

The hope is that one day you’ll be able to look for the Matter logo (shown above) on a prospective buy’s box or specs sheet and be reassured that it will work with all the other Matter devices in your home.

Thread: Connecting Matter devices

Matter provides a standardised way to network these devices, ensuring that they understand each other. Thread, however, is how they will actually communicate.

Also started by the CSA, Thread is open source and free for anyone to use (assuming you’re a member of the Thread group, which requires a paid membership). Members include Apple, ARM, Nest, OSRAM, Qualcomm, Samsung and the Yale lock company. The HomePod Mini is Apple’s first Thread-compatible product, for instance.

Promising a high level of security with no single point of failure, Matter was pretty fundamental to the design of Thread. It makes use of its own wireless range (the same used by Zigbee) as well as 6LoWPAN (IPv6 over Low-Power Wireless Personal Area Networks).

Matter and Thread: The future of the smart home

With more compatible devices appearing on sale, it looks as if Matter and Thread are the future for smart home devices. No, buying something that doesn’t use Matter doesn’t mean it’s likely to stop working soon. A device that works now with Apple HomeKit is likely to continue doing so for the foreseeable future.

We are already seeing companies such as Eve starting to make the change. It has various HomeKit-compatible IoT devices that are sold on Apple’s website. New versions of Eve products are now appearing which now with Matter and Thread. As a result, the older (non-Thread) versions of the products can be picked up at a bargain price.

An excuse for change?

Why, you might wonder, can’t the companies simply issue a software update to support Matter and Thread, instead of making people buy new equipment? Alas, it’s simply not possible to add support with a firmware update. Different communication methods are used which require new hardware.

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About the author

David Artiss

Currently working for a technology company based in San Francisco, David has worked in IT for nearly 30 years. He is a keen gamer and happily admits to being a gadget nerd too.

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