Alliance for IoT Brand Matter Focuses on Standards

By Claire Swedberg

The Connectivity Standards Alliance, previously known as the Zigbee Alliance, is creating a standardized approach to Internet of Things development, while offering a new brand called Matter, focused on improving IoT security, interoperability, simplicity, reliability and flexibility.

According to the  Zigbee Alliance, 2020 was a record-breaking year for Zigbee technology-based Internet of Things (IoT) devices, with more than 560 such devices certified, representing an increase of approximately 30 percent from the year prior. More than half a billion Zigbee chipsets have been sold to date, with nearly four billion expected to be shipped by 2023. In light of that growth, the Zigbee Alliance has changed its name to the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), in order to reflect the many related IoT technologies it represents.

In addition, the organization is offering a new standard brand name,  Matter, formerly known to the industry as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP), which serves as the application layer for IoT technology. The newly developed Matter mark provide a seal of approval, the Alliance reports, assuring users that any object built on this standard will be compatible, reliable and secure. The organization will continue to develop Zigbee technologies and will retain the Zigbee technology brand. Several companies are now developing products, such as smart-home devices, based on the Matter standard, which are expected to be certified and released by the end of this year.

The Matter logo will indicate that smart home lighting, door locks, televisions, HVAC systems, security sensors and other controllers can operate across multiple ecosystems.

The former Zigbee Alliance, now CSA. includes 350 member companies and 3,000 individuals who create, maintain and deliver open global standards for the IoT, according to Tobin Richardson, CSA's president and CEO. The organization formed a working group dedicated to the Matter brand standardization, and it currently has 180 members onboard. The renaming represents an expansion of the Alliance's role from strictly Zigbee-based technology to include Matter, as well as other IoT technology standards, such as Smart Energy (for green home products), Rf4ce (for remote controllers), JupiterMesh (for smart cities) and Dotdot (for everyday smart objects).

The Matter logo is intended to be as easily recognizable as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth logos, according to Richardson. "It's about having an externally facing ubiquitous label," he says. For consumers, the logo will mean that smart home lighting, door locks, televisions, HVAC systems, security sensors and other controllers can operate across multiple ecosystems. Users would be expected to have a Matter-certified device that could be controlled by Amazon or Google systems, for instance.

Matter is focused on four key areas, CSA explains: simplicity, interoperability, reliability and security. The standard is aimed at simplifying the development process for smart home device makers. With interoperability, Richardson says, a variety of products can communicate even when they are from different manufacturers. The reliability focus, he adds, is on making a standard that is consistent and fully tested so consumers can depend on their quality. Lastly is the feature Richardson deems the most important: security. Matter devices will employ widely used security protocols with an IP basis, he explains, adding, "It's security by design, with a focus on security for every interaction between every device."

Tobin Richardson

In 2019, Amazon, Apple, Comcast, Google, SmartThings and the Zigbee Alliance joined forces to develop and promote the Project CHIP standard, joined by fellow members IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Schneider Electric, Signify, Silicon Labs, Somfy and Wulian. Currently, there are more than 180 member organizations of all sizes, spanning a range of business categories, and more than 1,700 member individuals in the Matter Working Group to promote the specification, reference implementations, testing tools and certification programs. Just this month,  Apple announced that Matter-certified devices will work with the HomeKit smart-home software framework.

According to Richardson, the Matter logo will put a name in front of consumers indicating that a product can offer interoperability where siloed systems were previously being developed. Devices certified as compliant with Matter are expected to run on existing networking technologies, such as Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Thread (compliant with ISO 802.15.4) as well as Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). The standard will continue to evolve, he says, with many new device types being added in. The fundamentals of how Matter's powering, provisioning and other features will be accomplished are already in place. "Much of the code will now be in the repository, setting up test events, moving from one important design phase to key implementation stage," he states.

CSA's members are building products even as the organization works on the standard, Richardson reports. "We've already been at the same table developing [it]," he says, as those creating developer kits for their Matter-certified products. "So you've got Google, Apple, Amazon and ASSA ABLOY company engineers playing together, doing these tests," with interoperability at the center of their efforts. By the end of the year, he predicts, manufacturers will be able to sell Matter-certified products, following the guidelines set in place based on the workgroup's early efforts.

That phase—what the Alliance calls 1.0—of developing and releasing technology could happen quickly, Richardson says, due to the organization's maturity (the Alliance was launched two decades ago), as well as group members' competence. "There are things we already know and have developed," he states. "It's almost a systems integration effort rather than developing code from scratch." The organization, he adds, knows the importance of simplifying and harmonizing IoT securely. Furthering that effort, CSA will represent the global drive toward regulatory decisions being made on a legislative level, for security purposes, whether in Beijing, Washington D.C., or Brussels.

In the long term, CSA sees growth ahead—not just in smart homes, but in most industries. That growth was pronounced in 2020 and early 2021, Richardson says. "I was surprised at how companies doubled down during COVID-19," he states, based on demand from consumers for IoT solutions and the increasing need for them to interoperate. "Companies are bumping up against a ceiling in terms of functionality with closed ecosystems, so what you're seeing is we need to open up these islands and get a common standard."

Richardson warns that basic interoperability is necessary to continue IoT growth in a way that will be adopted by consumers. "If we're not getting interoperability resolved, consumers will get fatigued," he says, since products will not operate in a way that brings value. "If we don't do this now, it could delay the market two, three, four, five years." IoT technology is being deployed in commercial buildings, schools, hospitals and hotels, as well as for smart agriculture, all providing technology that enables connected and touchless experiences.

The Matter Working Group includes chip and module companies, along with device manufacturers and retailers. CSA has also partnered with the  World Economic Forum and the  Council on the Connected World to create an initiative that will build sustainable, resilient and equitable solutions with IoT technologies.