03-03-2022 | | By Robin Mitchell
Google, Amazon, Apple, and other tech companies are working towards a unified IoT standard to finally bring all IoT devices together. What challenges does IoT present when creating connected networks, what is Matter, and will it be the IoT standard of the future?
Of all electronics to have ever been manufactured, IoT devices seem to be one of the most controversial. Whether it is for the use of weak security features, the ability to spy on homeowners, or for some to work unreliably, they are routinely at the centre of media attention. But of all challenges IoT devices face, the biggest by far is the amount of fragmentation amongst devices.
For the longest time, there has been a vision in the industry of future homes connecting all their internal appliances together with cloud computing to provide homeowners with AI personal assistants that can adjust the conditions of the home to their liking. However, such a vision requires that IoT devices can easily communicate with each other using unified standards, and this is something that simply does not exist. A joke posted online about IoT standards perfectly explains why so many exist. Two engineers see that there are 14 IoT standards, and they both agree that a single standard is needed, so they work together to create a new unified standard. There are now 15 IoT standards.
This joke shows that every company that looks at the industry and tries to push their own “revolutionary standard” is just adding to the problem, and the many different standards just see devices isolated with no real smart capability.
The biggest names in IoT devices and related services have been working together since 2019 to try and solve this challenge. Instead of expecting IEEE standards to be published, it makes more sense for major software platforms to dictate the new standards so that manufacturers of IoT devices conform to their software; this is where Matter comes in.
Matter is a joint open-standard project that aims to create an IoT standard that allows all devices to communicate. While the standard is proprietary, it is royalty-free and open-source, allowing anyone to view its source code and implement it (of course, licensing is required for commercial purposes). Fundamentally, the new standard is based on Internet Protocol, which allows it to easily connect to other local devices and remote services via the internet. The standard will also enable devices to prove their authenticity via certification, which can help build trust in home networks.
The protocol in development is being supported by major technology companies, including Google, Apple, and Amazon, while also being supported by manufacturers and distributors such as IKEA, Kroger, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, and Texas Instruments. This broad support will help establish Matter as an IoT standard and enable devices from a range of manufacturers to all use the same software platforms.
There is no doubt that the unification of IoT devices is essential as it allows for all IoT devices in a network to work together. However, as the previous joke states, this could just be another standard that gets mixed in with all the other standards. This problem is amplified when considering that IoT devices are very easy to design and manufacture, as are their protocols. Thus, a company could easily create a range of IoT products aimed at the home that all use a proprietary protocol not used by Matter.
For IoT products to be unified under a single standard, the standard has to be freely available to all without the need for licenses and royalties. For example, Internet Protocol (IP) is a non-proprietary communication standard that requires no licenses and, as such, is used by all. Matter, however, could suffer from its proprietary nature.