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Fall Release on Track

Matter to Enable Smart Home Players to Focus on Proficiencies: Panelists

With the delayed Matter specification now pushed to an expected fall release, IoT industry companies remain hopeful the standard will bring compatibility, ease of use, reliability and security to the disparate smart home space, said panelists on a recent Matter webinar sponsored by Silicon Labs.

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For Amazon, Matter will enable a larger potential installed base of compatible devices within its Echo smart speaker ecosystem, said Chris DeCenzo, senior principal software development engineer. Toward that end, Amazon will update most Echo devices in the field to become Matter hubs, DeCenzo said. Amazon is also sanguine about what Matter will mean for TVs and streaming media players “that have historically been held back by nonstandard casting protocols,” he said.

Today, consumers use Alexa to control entertainment via Echo devices and Fire TVs, and screen devices “are showing up all over the home” as ways to get information and access content, DeCenzo said. Amazon is working with other companies in the industry to adopt Matter “so customers can have a consistent way to use voice controls to launch their favorite content and so developers can build new innovative experiences that include video,” he said. He sketched a future where developers “focus on experiences rather than connectivity” to “unleash innovation in ways that we haven’t seen before.”

Google sees Matter solving three “foundational issues” that delayed mainstream adoption of smart home products, said Michele Turner, senior director-Google Nest smart home ecosystem, citing product setup, interoperability and reliability. If consumers can’t turn on a light more easily using smart home devices, then “What’s the point?” Turner said.

Accessories company Belkin sees Matter enabling “the intelligence of things,” said Karl Jonsson, Wemo senior director-product management. Vendors will no longer have to create vertical solutions and can focus on “what they’re good at,” whether that’s building accessories, algorithms or user interfaces, he said.

Silicon Labs expects “huge growth in devices,” said Rob Alexander, principal product manager-Matter. “When you see an industry where the two sides of the communication technology are made by different vendors and they really interact very well, that’s where you see the industry take off,” he said.

Alexander noted that within the Connectivity Standards Alliance, which is overseeing development of the Matter standard, app developers, device makers and cloud-based companies are working together in a way that will enable them to concentrate on their core competencies in an interoperable way. While many Matter-enabled devices won’t necessarily go into millions of installations, “we still want them to be connected to the internet” and to be controllable in the smart home, Alexander said.

CSA’s Michelle Mindala-Freeman, head-marketing and member services, said Matter is on track for a fall release, after a delay from 2021, “to ensure we had a solid code base for our [software] developer kit,” along with a “clear SDK and the quality and stability that’s required." Milestones leading up to the standard’s release -- a March test event and another in May -- have been completed, she said.

'Soup to Nuts' Certification

The next step is for the Matter specification to be released to member companies in preparation for a specification validation event this summer that will test the "soup to nuts” capabilities of Matter, scripts and tools needed for certification, Mindala-Freeman said. “All indications are we are continuing to progress on plan for a fall 2022 release.”

Mike Nelson, DigiCert vice president-IoT security, sees Matter as a reflection of maturity in the smart home space. To date, product makers have been focused on securing their own ecosystem, he said. “Now we’re looking at it from a multi-vendor perspective,” with Matter creating trust, interoperability and the ability to securely communicate between devices. That security level will be important beyond the smart home, in hospitals and other areas where trust and security among different products is critical, he said.

Security is a key part of the seamless onboarding process and interoperability Matter promises, and Matter has “very good standards for encryption,” ensuring data can’t be intercepted and that it’s protected in transit, Nelson said. Project Matter has done a good job of putting the fundamental cornerstones of security in place to make sure that the ecosystem can be trusted, Nelson said.

On whether that added layer of security to meet the Matter spec will be a burden to manufacturers, Belkin’s Jonsson said the company already takes security seriously, and the Matter process is very similar to what Belkin has been doing all along. The company will manage security similarly through root certificates and serialization, he said.

Security levels will vary by device type, said Silicon Labs’ Alexander. For some classes of products, “you want that hardware root of trust; you want to be able to bring in those certificates, those keys that will be generated on the physical chips," which will never leave the device, he said. There will also be classes of devices that won’t require such a high level of security, he said. They could be retrofitted “with the knowledge that the device types that they support don’t need this incredibly high level of security because users want to be able to use and bring devices and do field upgrades, if possible."

Some companies will supplement security to protect their own ecosystems. Google’s Turner said Google “has a responsibility on the Android side to enable startup flows via Android,” and the team is working on developing a trusted and secure way for devices to be set up and pulled into the Matter environment. Google also has its own SDK to do “base-level certification” to make sure devices work with Google controllers, whether they’re hubs, speakers or displays, she said. “When Wemo has its Matter device, we will go through and just confirm that that device is working securely through our Matter controllers on our platform” as "an extra step of security,” Turner said.

'Compatibility' vs. Custom Devices

Amazon’s DeCenzo noted Matter opens up a landscape that was historically separated, which he divided into “compatibility” and custom devices. Compatibility devices worked together on private networks over standard protocols such as Z-Wave or Zigbee, where the device maker was “separated from the device once it had been installed.” Custom devices typically had a Wi-Fi connection so manufacturers could have a connection with the customer and the device, he said.

Matter, because it’s IP based, gives device makers “the ability to do both,” DeCenzo said. “A device maker actually can have a connection back with their device.” Amazon is providing software stacks to help device makers that want to connect their devices to the cloud so they can manage the software update process. Security for IoT devices rests on software updates, DeCenzo said. “If you’re a device maker, and you’ve got anything from stability fixes to critical security patches, you want to be able to get those things out to your device quickly -- you want to be able to control that,” he said, and Matter allows software updates to address security issues. Google’s Turner agreed, calling software update capability in Matter “critical” and a “game-changer.”

DeCenzo downplayed the importance of services in the early stage of Matter’s evolution, saying it’s more important initially to gain penetration with Matter devices. “In the first version of Matter, we have a handful of great device types, but we don’t have all the device types that you need in order to build” a lot of innovative services, he said. He cited a “new protocol risk issue,” saying, “We have to get infrastructure out into the environment.” Amazon is doing that by launching Thread border routers and controllers on its Echo devices, DeCenzo said. The company is pushing to get the ability to run Matter into “as many homes as we can.”

Bridges will be key to the seeding the first generation of Matter devices and accelerating adoption, DeCenzo said, allowing users to connect new Matter devices with existing smart home systems. Amazon is encouraging hub makers to build in bridge functionality to Matter. “It’s fun” to talk about the services Matter will enable, but “we also want to remember where we are right now,” he said, citing getting the SDK released, launching the spec and making sure devices are operating successfully. “The first version of Matter is going to be really important to get adoption and to get as many controllers out there and to get customers comfortable with it, so that we work out all of the bugs,” said the Amazon executive.

Bridges will continue to have a role for longer lifecycle products, said Silicon Labs’ Alexander, citing garage door openers. When a Matter-enabled garage door opener becomes available, homeowners aren't likely to replace an existing one to be Matter-compatible: "What makes sense there is a hub or a bridge to provide that translation.”

Video doorbells, robot vacuums and appliances are among the connected device categories that aren’t currently part of Matter. CSA’s Mindala-Freeman said the alliance is starting work on the next wave of device types. She encouraged manufacturers in those categories to “come and participate” and to bring other companies, even competitors, because the standards approach lets companies create a level of interoperability within a smart home or building environment. The things companies can agree on from a standards perspective “will basically lift the entire tide of your market segment," she said.