Evaluating the Matter Protocol: First Steps

By: Valerii Haidarzhy, 28 May 2024
12   min read
Reading Time: 12 minutes

Explore Our Series Matter Technology

Dive deeper into Matter with our comprehensive series of articles. Each piece offers unique insights and in-depth analysis, guiding you through different facets of the topic. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, this series aims to provide valuable information that will enhance your understanding and spark further interest. Explore the articles listed below:

  1. Matter Smart Home: Simplifying Smart Homes or Market Domination?
  2. Evaluating the Matter Protocol: First Steps –  You are here
  3. Real Talk on Matter Protocol: Software Evaluation
  4. Crafting Connectivity: Hardware Evaluation in Matter Ecosystem

Hailed as a breakthrough in smart technology, Matter promises to bridge various connectivity technologies — Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Thread, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). But as professionals, our job isn’t just to accept these claims at face value. As tech experts, we always approach the new standards with both eagerness and caution, and we’re here to put Matter under the microscope, examining its practicality and real-world impact.

As we said earlier in our previous article “Matter Smart Home: Simplifying Smart Homes or Market Domination?, the tech industry is crowded with smart devices, each speaking a different technological language. Matter aims to be the common tongue, promising smoother compatibility, stronger security, and easier usage. But can it really live up to these lofty expectations? This is a question for any tech-focused company thinking about adopting Matter.

For decision-makers, this isn’t just another tech trend. They must consider how Matter will fit into their existing setups. Will it mesh well, or will it complicate things? Is it truly the key to more efficient and secure operations? All these questions demand concrete answers. This article kicks off our series on Matter evaluation. In subsequent sequels, we’ll extend our focus to software and hardware engineers, offering in-depth insights and sharing our team’s approach to evaluating Matter with practical examples. This is just the beginning of our comprehensive exploration into the best practices for evaluating this new standard.

Aligning Tech Choices with Business Reality

In defining corporate aspects, it’s better not just to tick boxes but to look at how our technology choices align with actual business goals and strategies. It’s easy to get caught up in the latest tech trends, but how do these fit into the broader picture of our company’s future? This part of the evaluation is a step in making sure that our investment in Matter technology pays off. We must scrutinize how these technologies will scale, adapt, and grow with our business. This means being honest about what’s feasible, what’s necessary, and what’s just tech fluff. And as we see it, the best way is to start with:

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Here, you would conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis of different hardware and software solutions, vendor and supplier choices, all aligned with prognosed manufacturing plans. For example, you could compare the long-term cost implications of a high-end development solution or evaluation kit versus a more cost-effective MCU on a landscape of required platform agility. Drawing from our experience, among other choices, we found that the RW612 from NXP, with its integrated Wi-Fi and Thread support, offers a balanced approach between advanced capabilities and power consumption, making it one of the optimal choices for cost-efficiency in diverse product lines.
  • Application Range: Assessing how well the solution can adapt to different environments or use cases. For example, suppose your device is intended for both home and industrial use. In that case, you must confirm it can operate effectively in both settings and align to various compliance standards. Our team’s analysis of the ESP32-C6 by Espressive, which supports Wi-Fi 6, highlighted its adaptability in a wide range of application scenarios, from consumer devices to industrial applications, thanks to its robust performance and connectivity options.
  • Expansion Potential: This involves evaluating the solution’s ability to adapt to future technological advancements and market demands and, for instance, ensuring that the software can be updated remotely to add new features or daisy-chained into local-area networks. In practice, we leveraged the EFR32MG24 from Silicon Labs for its pre-certified Matter compatibility and built-in Thread connectivity, demonstrating significant expansion potential through easy integration into existing and future smart ecosystems.
  • Vendor Support: It is important to assess the reliability of vendor support for technical assistance, certification processes, future upgrades, and included services. This might involve evaluating the vendor’s track record in the industry and responsiveness to support queries. Our engagement with Nordic Semiconductor for their nRF52840 SoC exemplified exceptional vendor support, with comprehensive documentation and responsive technical assistance, providing smooth product development and certification processes.
  • Network Infrastructure and Scalability: The Border Router is the backbone of a Matter-connected system. It needs to handle data traffic from various nodes efficiently. This involves analyzing network load (how much data is being sent and received), data throughput (the speed at which data is processed), and security protocols (to protect data integrity and privacy). For instance, if you anticipate high data traffic, you might need a Border-Router with advanced processing capabilities and robust security features like hardware-based encryption. Our deployment of the OpenThread Border Router, compatible with the nRF52 device, served for communication and scalability within our Matter network, efficiently accommodating a diverse range of devices and traffic volumes.
  • Feedback and Communication Mechanisms: Setting up reliable ways to hear feedback from users and stakeholders is vital. Remember that no universal method works for every scenario. Depending on what fits best, we could lean on various strategies, like digital surveys, user test panels, or real-time tracking systems. Also, staying in close contact with our technology providers is needed to address any technical glitches swiftly. This might mean scheduling frequent updates or having a direct support line.

Rethinking the Norm in Hardware and Software Choices

Regarding the hardware and software for devices that use Matter, we should think outside the box. Usually, people just pick the suitable microcontroller unit (MCU), but is that always the best choice? Let’s look at this from a practical point of view and really think about the actual needs. Sometimes, just going with the usual choice isn’t the best option. We should consider how our choices affect how the device works, how easily people use it, and how well it performs in a Matter network. Depending on what we’re trying to achieve, we might narrow down our choices to focus more on what’s specifically needed for our project.

Fully Custom, Powerful Solutions with Independent Fabric

This is like building a house from the ground up, precisely to your specifications. The key advantage here is the unparalleled level of customization. You’re not constrained by pre-existing platforms or technologies, allowing for innovation that might be stifled in more standardized environments. This approach is ideal for projects with unique requirements that off-the-shelf solutions can’t meet. Extended benefits may pay additional market interest over specialties supported only by your custom platform.

However, the challenges are significant. This path requires substantial investment in both time and resources. Developing custom management features and infrastructure demands a deep understanding of networking, software engineering, and the Matter protocol itself. There’s also a higher risk factor – you’re venturing into uncharted territory, without the safety net of established solutions.

One major pitfall is underestimating the complexity and cost of developing and maintaining such a system. There’s also the risk of creating a solution so specialized that it may become difficult to integrate with other systems or adapt to future technological changes.

This approach involves creating a network infrastructure for specific device requirements – like building a private highway instead of using public roads. Here, you might develop unique communication protocol overlays optimized for your device’s data traffic patterns. For a simple example, if you’re designing a security system, your protocol overlay might prioritize data packets related to security alerts over regular status updates. This approach requires deep technical expertise in network engineering and software development.

Custom End-Device Focus

Success in custom end-device development hinges on a deep understanding of the user’s needs and the technical landscape. Having a great idea is not enough – the execution must be spot-on. This means staying updated on the latest developments in Matter protocol, being adaptable to changing technologies, and clearly focusing on the end-user experience. And this means starting with the user experience and working backward to the technology. 

Let’s take a smart air purifier as an example. Instead of beginning with an off-the-shelf MCU and trying to fit your needs around its capabilities, you start by defining the purifier’s key functions – like detecting various pollutants, automatically adjusting filtration levels, and providing real-time air quality feedback. This leads to selecting specific sensors and connectivity modules (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or Radio) that align with these functions. The software is then developed to not only manage these tasks efficiently but also to provide an intuitive user interface.

Developing a custom end device involves several steps. First, clearly define the device’s purpose and functionality. What problem is it solving, and how does it interact with other devices in the Matter ecosystem? Next, select the right components that align with these functionalities – sensors, processors, connectivity modules, and more.

Solution-Based End-Device

This approach is about finding a balance. It’s like choosing a pre-designed house and then customizing it to fit your needs. You’re working with an existing platform, which can significantly reduce development time and costs. And it’s suitable for projects that require faster deployment and where the end device doesn’t need highly specialized features.

Here, the focus shifts to selecting and integrating established system-on-chip (SoC) or microcontroller unit (MCU) solutions already compliant with the Matter standard. For instance, in a smart home system where seamless within a Matter ecosystem is central, choosing a pre-certified SoC or MCU that supports Matter over various protocols becomes a priority. These components come equipped with the necessary radio modules and are programmed to interact with other devices in the network using Matter’s standardized profiles and clusters.

While this approach may seem less daunting than building from scratch, it requires careful evaluation of the chosen platform. Does it truly align with your project’s goals? Are there hidden limitations or dependencies that might hinder your project in the long run? Critically evaluating these factors will help determine if a solution-based approach is appropriate for your project.

No matter what route you take, you can’t ignore the software side. It is what makes or breaks your device. And besides the fancy features, it’s about how the device actually works day-to-day for the people using it – how a device can talk to other devices, why someone can find it easy or hard to use, and why it can get better over time with updates. It’s how a device fits into the whole Matter idea – making different brands and types of gadgets work together nicely. For instance, companies like Alif Semiconductor play a significant role by providing microcontrollers that enhance this connectivity through robust software integration, making their devices compatible and able to communicate efficiently within such ecosystems. And honestly, it’s software that lets you keep up with new tech or user needs without starting from scratch every time.

Building an Effective Evaluation Strategy

A proper evaluation sets the stage for the entire project, determining its trajectory towards success or failure. It’s the difference between navigating through challenges with foresight or stumbling into them unprepared. Our experience taught us that anticipation and flexibility are key. We learned the hard way that each device’s integration into a broader system can unearth unexpected hurdles, from firmware snags to interoperability issues.

Hardware Considerations

  • Processor Performance: The brain of any Matter-connected gadget needs to be more than just strong – it must work smart, not hard. Imagine a smart security camera. Its processor has to deal with video processing and keep the data secure simultaneously, all while delivering instant actions and decisions. Handling heavy tasks without draining too much power requires a balance of speed and efficiency.
  • Memory and Storage Space: For any device to run smoothly, it must have enough memory to juggle different tasks and quickly process large chunks of data. Take a smart speaker as an example – it needs plenty of memory to recognize and process voice commands on the fly. Storage is equally important, not just for what the device needs now but also for future updates. As devices get smarter, updates become more extensive, so planning for extra space is a must.
  • Connectivity: The right way to keep a Matter-enabled device well-connected is necessary. It’s all about making sure the device can talk fluently across various networks. A smart thermostat is a perfect case – it should effortlessly switch from Wi-Fi to Thread based on what’s available or more efficient, providing a steady and reliable connection.
  • Power Needs: The power source for devices varies not only for Matter ones – some plug into the wall, others might soak up the sun, and some run on batteries. The choice heavily depends on how and where the device will be used. A device plugged into the wall doesn’t need to worry much about power efficiency. But a device running on solar power or batteries needs a careful plan to manage its energy use, and it’s better to make sure it lasts as long as it needs to without frequent recharges or replacements. 

External Control

  • Remote Accessibility: This feature is main in today’s IoT devices. For example, the ability to control devices through a smartphone app adds immense convenience to smart home systems. A user could, for instance, adjust their home heating system while at work or check if all lights are off. But whatever goes beyond standard indicators for Matter, shall be freely accessible from your custom application, never to restrict users from changing your product-specific settings remotely.
  • Automated System Management: In commercial or industrial settings, external cloud control translates to efficiency and cost savings. Take smart lighting in office buildings; systems can adjust lighting based on natural light availability or occupancy, significantly reducing energy consumption. Though the local area may be thoroughly covered with Matter standards, you may benefit severely from some fleet-management options available only for your product.

 

Besides our own experience, we know many examples from end users. Take the case of smart home enthusiasts who decided to upgrade their homes with smart dimmers. They weren’t creating new products but simply wanted to make their homes smarter using available technology. Yet, they ran into trouble with their dimmers’ motion sensors, which would activate with minimal movement, causing unnecessary lighting.

Trying to resolve these issues, they turned to Z-Wave, Raspberry Pi, and Home Assistant for more precise control, hoping to disable unwanted features and improve device management. However, they encountered firmware problems, notably with some dimmers sharing IDs within the Z-Wave network, leading to incorrect settings adjustments. Their struggle to secure essential firmware updates due to manufacturers’ restrictive policies only compounded their frustration. This is why it’s so important to integrate external control options into your project from the start. Making sure devices are easy for everyone to control and update means users won’t have to struggle with unnecessary technical problems. When implementing Matter, remember – it’s about making life easier.

Preparing Your Network for Expansion

  • Scalability Analysis: Anticipate how your network might grow. This means not just adding more devices but also confirming the network can handle increased data traffic. Imagine introducing a range of new sensors and smart devices to your lineup. Your network must manage this growth seamlessly, without performance hiccups or delays in command processing. Failing to address scalability from the onset can significantly hinder system performance, resulting in delayed responses or, worse, unresponsive devices.
  • Impact on Network Performance: When adding more devices to a network, you must anticipate potential impacts on network performance. Planning ahead might involve boosting network infrastructure or tweaking the setup to handle traffic more effectively. For example, introducing additional border routers or dividing the network into segments could help manage traffic flow better, making networking setups remain unaffected by issues like channel throttling or congestion.
  • Role of Border Routers: Border routers are necessary for linking different network types, making sure devices using protocols like Thread can talk to those on Wi-Fi or Ethernet. Understanding what border routers can do and their limits is required for setting up the network correctly. Consider a situation that actually happened in real life, where a high-end audio system, which was supposed to use new wireless technology, actually relied on Wi-Fi to connect the hub to speakers. This setup faced significant issues because the system kept changing Wi-Fi channels rapidly, causing frequent sound dropouts. This shows the importance of good network design and how wrong setups can lead to big problems. 
  • End-Accessory vs. Gateway Distinctions: It will be helpful to recognize the differences between simple end-accessories and complex gateways. While an end-accessory might perform a specific function, gateways, like an Appliance Gateway, manage a group of devices, often offering additional processing power and control functionalities. These gateways are specialized nodes that manage specific device groups or functionalities within the Matter ecosystem. They usually handle more data and provide centralized control for a subset of devices. 

Some Tips to Remember

  • Test for Interoperability: Make sure your device works with other devices in the ecosystem. For instance, a smart bulb must respond to various Matter-compliant apps and systems.
  • Simulate Real-World Scenarios: Beyond lab tests, check how your device performs under conditions it’ll face day-to-day. If you’re working with a smart irrigation system, test it across different weather scenarios and soil conditions.
  • Monitor Network Performance: Assess how adding your device affects the overall network. Remember the example of the audio system that disrupted Wi-Fi due to poor design? Ensure your device maintains network stability.
  • Evaluate Energy Efficiency: Understanding how your device uses power in different scenarios is necessary, especially for battery-powered devices. It will help you to optimize battery life and operational efficiency.
  • Check for Firmware Update Mechanisms: Confirm that your device can receive updates straightforwardly. Firmware updates are fundamental for fixing bugs, improving performance, and adding new features.
  • Document User Experience: Gather feedback on how intuitive and satisfactory the device is from a user’s perspective. Usability can be as critical as technical performance.
  • Consider Security Protocols: Test your device’s security features thoroughly. IoT devices are often targets for cyber attacks, so robust security measures are non-negotiable.
  • Plan for Scalability: Consider how your device will perform as part of a more extensive system. If your network expands, your device should still function efficiently without requiring a complete overhaul.

In the world of smart technology, it’s not just about keeping up. At Sirin Software, we aim to be ahead. Our dive into Matter is a part of our approach – leading in a fast-changing field, which is only possible by investing early. We know how important it is to really get to grips with new tech like Matter, and we prefer to be fully prepared. In a fast-paced industry, being ahead means understanding and shaping new technologies from the start.

Our way at Sirin Software is unique. Instead of watching from the sidelines, we get fully involved. This commitment is clearly demonstrated in our recent project, where we have successfully developed a smart lighting controller that integrates seamlessly with any smart home ecosystem. This active attitude is key for us and the people we work with. To our present and future collaborators, we say: come and join us on this tech adventure. If you’re figuring out how new tech fits into your business or starting something new, we’re here to help with our know-how and insights.

We’re all for clear, straightforward chats. No complicated terms or unnecessary extras – just real talk about working together with these technologies. Get in touch, ask us anything, and share your thoughts. And remember, this is just the beginning. Keep an eye out for our next articles on evaluating Matter. We’ve got special pieces on the way about evaluating both software and hardware, unpacking everything from challenges to the big wins. Let’s dive into the future of smart tech together, dicovering new possibilities and pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible – contact us today.

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