What Wi-Fi brings to Matter's bid to boost residential IoT

The Matter protocol enabling greater interoperability among IoT devices could represent the major market breakthrough the IoT ecosystem has been waiting for, with many of the giants of the high-tech space, including Amazon, Apple, and Google building Matter support into their IoT products. What is often overlooked is how important Wi-Fi is as a foundational technology that could help Matter fulfill its potential.

Fierce Electronics recently spoke to Kevin Robinson, president and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance about the role the technology plays in support of Matter, and how Matter also could help Wi-Fi device connections, which already number about 18 billion devices, become even more widespread than they already are. Below is an edited version of that conversation.

Fierce Electronics: How significant could Matter be in helping IoT–particularly consumer IoT proliferate–and what is Wi-Fi’s role in enabling that to happen?

Kevin Robinson: Matter is looking to eliminate some of the barriers we've traditionally seen in IoT around interoperability, particularly at more of what I would say is the service or application level. If you want to think of it almost like an OSI model, where you may have had underlying interoperability, maybe the connectivity technology like Wi Fi or Thread, etc. But the applications themselves wouldn't speak well together. We often joked in the past about “How many apps does it take to turn on a light bulb, right?” You almost had to have an app for every brand. This is one of the last remaining barriers to mass adoption and success in the IoT space. And so what Matter’s doing is bringing together two specific foundational connectivity technologies, and that will be Thread and Wi Fi, both IP-native technologies. And then Matter builds the elements that sit on top of IP such that you can have interoperability across multiple vendors and multiple ecosystems. 

FE: Does it matter to Matter what generation of Wi-Fi technology you have?

KR: This really shows the value Wi-Fi brings because Wi-Fi has maintained backwards interoperability compatibility across really all generations. Matter requires Wi-Fi Certified 4 or later, but it will benefit from the fact that we have this backwards interoperability. Wi-Fi 5 devices are going to work in the matter ecosystem, Wi-Fi 6 devices will work in the ecosystem, and eventually Wi-Fi 7 devices. There's really nothing Matter has to do to enable this. 

FE: So Wi-Fi already connects billions of devices, and Matter can leverage that market penetration to help its own cause, but can Wi-Fi also further its own market with Matter’s help?

KR: Absolutely. Reducing one of the few remaining barriers to residential IoT adoption by allowing the services and the applications to become interoperable is going to grow the overall home IoT opportunity. Similar to what you saw happen with Wi-Fi when many years we as an industry delivered multi-vendor interoperability that allowed companies that are involved in Wi Fi to benefit and ultimately consumers to benefit as well because they could use whichever brand phone or laptop they prefer. Matter is doing the same thing for the higher layers, the applications themselves, and so that absolutely has the potential to make the size of the pipe bigger, growing the opportunity to proliferate connected devices into new device categories and for additional vendors to bring more to market. The other piece that is important is Matter specifically requires Wi Fi Certified products and the expectation of underlying interoperability, security, manageability, etc., that provides. That also reduces some of the friction to provide a better user experience, which again will grow the opportunity as more people look into the IoT products for their homes. As you said, Wi Fi already has a very strong presence in home IoT. For example,  I have dozens of devices in my home that run on Wi-Fi. And this is just going to help accelerate that adoption. 

FE: If Matter really does what everyone hopes for the IoT market, will your alliance’s Wi-Fi Certified program be able to keep up with certifying all kinds of new products that potentially could emerge?

KR: Our Wi-Fi Certified program leverages a global third party network of more than a dozen labs. These are labs that do all manner of testing–Bluetooth, Matter, cellular, in addition to Wi-Fi so the labs in this network are absolutely in a position where they can meet the demand of new devices that are coming to market. We’re over 75,000 Wi-Fi Certified products now. Another important point is Wi-Fi doesn’t need to add any new functionality in order to support Matter. The devices have to include the Matter functionality, but everything below Matter was already in Wi-Fi. 

FE: Wi-Fi doesn’t need to change to support Matter, but because Matter could influence how new applications in the connected home evolve, so do you see it having an influence where Wi-Fi goes from here, how latency, security, and manageability evolve in future Wi-Fi versions? 

KR: The Wi-Fi Alliance has a very good communication channel with the Connectivity Standards Alliance connected blinds. We're definitely seeing a willingness from the Wi-Fi industry to be receptive to the needs of ecosystems like Matter, and look at what we can tweak in our own tool toolkit. We already have a very rich toolset in part because Wi Fi already operates in very challenging environments… and we're very open to expanding that toolkit based on ultimately what Matter needs.

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