Matter – The New IoT Standard

Anybody that uses more than one brand of Internet of Things (IoT) device in the home understands that there is no standard way to connect to these devices. Each manufacturer chooses from a range of different protocols to communicate with and control its devices, such as BLE, LoRa, LTE-M, NB-IoT, SigFox, ZigBee, and others. Every family of devices, and typically every different brand requires a separate app on your smartphone, which means managing a pile of different apps, passwords, and logs-ins to control your devices.

The situation is tougher on businesses. Consider a farmer that might need a dozen sets of software to control the different smart devices and systems installed in a modern dairy or chicken farm. Farmers have complained to me that it’s been growing increasingly complex to manage the electronics in their operation from day to day. Not only must they master different systems to control each set of devices, but the outputs of the various systems are not in a compatible format to communicate with other systems. A farmer must manually intervene if an alarm from one set of devices needs a response from other devices.

This is a big problem also for larger businesses that deploy IoT devices. It’s not uncommon for the makers of smart devices to retool their products over time, and a large business might find over time that it has multiple generations of smoke alarms, security cameras, smart door locks, or other devices from the same manufacturer that each require a different set of software to control. Companies have sometimes resorted to ripping and replacing older but still functional devices that are incompatible with the newest generation of devices.

Big companies also have the same problems as farmers in that there is no easy way to tie devices together onto one platform. The benefit of using smart sensors loses a lot of appeal if people are needed to manually interpret and intervene when trying to coordinate alarms or other events. Some companies have spent a lot of money to develop unique software to make sense of the outputs of different kinds of smart sensors – but that software has to constantly be tweaked for new devices.

The manufacturers of smart devices recognized that the chaos in the industry is holding down sales. Amazon, Apple, Google, and more than 200 other makers of home electronics and smart devices got together to develop a common IoT platform. These manufacturers agreed that it is important for them to work together, even though they are market rivals because the confusion created by the multiple communications platforms for IoT devices is hurting sales for the industry as a whole.

The new IoT platform that addresses the problems of the industry has been named Matter. There were hundreds of new devices using Matter at this years CES from a variety of vendors. Matter has created a standard language for interpreting the outputs from IoT devices. This means that the commands to operate a smart door lock will be identical from every manufacturer of smart door locks that joins the Matter consortium.  Matter also tests and certifies that devices adhere to the new standard.

This has huge potential for users of IoT. It will be possible to have one app on a smartphone that can communicate with all Matter-enabled devices in the home. This will make it easy and almost instantaneous to connect a new Matter device into your home network of devices. It also will make it easier to coordinate interactions between devices. For example, let’s say that you want your smart blinds to be lowered any time the inside temperature rises to some predetermined level. That can be made to work even if your smart thermostat and smart blinds equipment come from different vendors – commands will be unified across Matter devices, regardless of who made them. The implications for the farmer and the businesses are even more profound. They might finally be able to have a suite of interactive smart devices instead of disparate devices that can’t communicate with each other.

Interestingly, there were folks calling for this from the beginning of the IoT industry. But vendors all chose to take separate paths, and some competitors chose a different path so they wouldn’t be compatible with anything else. In the early days, manufacturers had a vision that people would buy a whole integrated suite of products from them – but the industry didn’t go in that direction. If this catches on, vendors that use Matter ought to have a major advantage within a few years of anybody that refuses to use the new standard.