New Delhi: In 2019, big tech firms like Apple, Amazon and Google, who otherwise strive to lock users into their own ecosystems, made an unprecedented move. Hundreds of firms came together to build a universal smart home standard, which would make smart homes simpler and make them available across multiple ecosystems, like iOS, Android, Alexa etc. The standard, called Matter, was launched earlier this week with partners like Amazon, LG, Samsung, and even Ikea. In an exclusive interview, Tobin Richardson, president and CEO of the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), which created Matter, explained how a single standard is meant to become a common thread for smart devices worldwide.
How many companies is Matter presently working with, and how many products are there in the market?
As the alliance, we’ve worked with around 550 companies to come up with an interoperability standard. The standard has been three years in the making. On October 4, the day we launched the specifications of the standard, we had about 108 products that were being tested on our standard. By the time we launched Matter 1.0, this number was up to 190, and today, we have at least 238 certified smart home and connected devices under our network.
Given that we already have the Zigbee Protocol, how is Matter different — and would it affect enterprise devices too?
The Zigbee Protocol that has been around for some time now is responsible for establishing a common standard for local, device to device network connectivity within a certain space. It is this that can help your smart things create their own network within a certain space. For now, Zigbee and Matter will exist as separate protocols, although eventually we may consider merging Zigbee into Matter.
Matter may also become applicable in a number of enterprise IoT use cases. For instance, when it comes to smart city deployments, where users will likely communicate with smart infrastructure facilities, Matter can help lay down a standard that ensures that industrial connected things are also compatible with consumer devices.
Why are Big Tech platforms looking to open up access now?
Even the big tech firms today are seeing the limitations of a closed ecosystem. While each of these firms will continue to experience growth in their own smart home products, it wouldn’t be at the same scale as they can potentially see with a standards-based approach.
Will this benefit small companies who do not have similar means as big tech as well?
Even if a brand has two engineers, they should be able to use our software development kit (SDK), as well as our partner relations, to get from concept to product. It also helps set a bar of quality that you’d expect from a connected device, so it’s no longer just a low-cost device, but also one that meets a standard.
Over 3,000 engineers across 280 companies have participated and provided engineering support to build the Matter standard. For small companies, it’s nearly impossible to access such a scale of engineering support on their own.
How does the validation process work, and what options do firms have in India?
There are multiple ways, depending on the size and level of an applying company. Vendors can seek out partners within the Matter network, negotiate their terms, and find their own middle ground.
We then have one of the authorized test laboratories to test the products, which is then relayed to the CSA, and the product is certified accordingly. We also have a mechanism if a company finishes a product, and seeks to white label it for other brands to retail the same — which can bring a large variety of new products to newer markets where adoption is still low.
We have nine authorized labs for now, and we’ve selected 18 different locations to facilitate these labs. We don’t have one in India right now, and we are working on that for the time being. In Asia, we have one in China right now.
The set-up of these labs is based on demand, and we expect larger capabilities to roll out over time. I can’t specify a timeline right away, but as market demand builds from different regions, we’ll help set-up more facilities accordingly.