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Matter vs. Zigbee: Exploring the Differences

Alicia5/16/2024
matter vs zigbee

Last December marked the release of a revolutionary smart home protocol, expanding the options available to consumers for their home automation needs. With the introduction of Matter, a cutting-edge technology endorsed by the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA), seamless communication between various smart home manufacturers such as Google, Amazon, and Samsung is possible. Despite the emergence of Matter, the market offers many other smart home protocols that serve IoT devices. Among them, Zigbee stands out.

In this article, we’ll take you through a thorough comparison of Matter and Zigbee so you can make more informed decisions about how to create a truly intelligent home.

What are Matter and Zigbee?

Some users prefer Matter over Zigbee. To make an informed choice, first, let’s explore the basic concept to help you understand what Matter and Zigbee are.

Matter:
Matter is like a common language for smart homes and IoT devices. It's an open-source standard that aims to make these devices work better together. By using the Internet Protocol (IP), Matter improves compatibility and security. With Matter, you don't need multiple hubs from different companies—just one compatible router will do the job. It's a smart way to connect and protect your devices.

Zigbee:
Zigbee is a wireless communication protocol specifically designed for small-scale projects, like home automation. It's a simple and cost-effective solution for connecting low-power devices, using small digital radios. Zigbee is often used in smart homes because it's reliable and doesn't require expensive equipment like Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. It's become the go-to protocol for many smart home setups.

Matter vs. Zigbee: Quick Comparison

The main differences between Matter and Zigbee are in the operating OSI layers which dictate things like interoperability, scalability and authentication. Matter protocol operates at higher layers, such as Layer 3 or 4 to faciliate communcations between devices while Zigbee operates at lower layers, such as Layer 1 or 2 to establish efficient wireless connections.

Here’s an overview of their operative differences:

Protocol Matter Zigbee
Operating OSI layers - Network layer (Layer-3/IPv6)
- Transport layer (Layer-4/UDP)
- Application layer (Layer-7)
- Physical layer (Layer-1)
- Data link layer (Layer-2)
- Network layer (Layer-3)
Interoperability Establishes interoperability among different devices and platforms Only provides interoperability among Zigbee-compatible devices
Topology Ethernet LAN, WiFi LAN, Thread and Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh networking
Scalability Designed to scale from small to large networks Suitable for small to medium-sized networks
Authentication Employs strong authentication mechanisms, such as public-key cryptography and certificates Uses access control mechanisms, pre-shared keys, and device-specific keys for authentication
Licensing fee Free Free
Membership 29 promoters and 281 participants More than 300 members

Zigbee vs. Matter: Key Differences

As you can see, Matter and Zigbee have significant differences in their operating protocols. In this section, we’ll go into detail comparing how each system works.

Operating OSI layers

Operating at different OSI layers, Matter and Zigbee exhibit distinct characteristics in their smart home communication:

Smart home protocols enable communication between home automation devices. To understand the key difference between Matter and Zigbee, we need to look at the layers of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, which outlines how computer systems communicate across networks.

Matter takes a higher-level approach within the OSI model, specifically focusing on layers above PHY (Physical Layer) and MAC (Data Link Layer). It shines in the network layer (Layer-3), known as IPv6, the transport layer (Layer-4), commonly referred to as UDP, and the application layer (Layer-7). Matter's specifications primarily revolve around these layers to ensure seamless communication and compatibility.

On the other hand, Zigbee operates at lower layers of the OSI model. Its strength lies in the physical layer (Layer-1), the data link layer (Layer-2), and the network layer (Layer-3). Zigbee establishes efficient wireless connections for smart home devices in the foundational layers.

While Matter focuses on the higher layers of the OSI model, Zigbee works in the lower layers, each catering to different aspects of smart home communication.

OSI model

Interoperability

Most users care more about the interoperability of different devices used in their smart home systems because they may purchase products from different manufacturers. In this sense, Matter is the more flexible option, with a high level of interoperability among different devices and platforms.

Based on IP (Internet Protocol) technology and using standard communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Thread, Matter can achieve interoperability between devices that have any of these protocols. For example, a smartphone or tablet can establish the first wireless contact with a Matter device during installation through Bluetooth.

On the other hand, Zigbee only provides interoperability with other Zigbee devices, which means that users can only choose Zigbee-compatible devices when building their smart home system.

The overall interoperability of Matter is higher than Zigbee’s since Matter functions almost universally among different device brands.

Topology

When we talk about topology, we're referring to how these two protocols work over different types of networks. Matter is more versatile when it comes to networking. It can work with various technologies like Ethernet LAN, WiFi LAN, Thread, and Bluetooth Low Energy. These different networks that Matter supports are what allow different smart home devices to easily connect to the Matter system.

Zigbee, on the other hand, is all about mesh networking. A mesh network allows each device in the network to operate as a repeater and pass the signal on to another device which makes mesh networks more versatile.

In a mesh network, all the infrastructure nodes like bridges, switches, and other devices connect directly to a central hub. These devices, also called mesh points, can cover greater distances and even work around obstacles, thus giving you reliable internet access in every space. This kind of network setup offers great coverage and reliability, which is important for smart home devices that rely on a stable internet connection.

Matter has a more versatile networking system and although Zigbee doesn't support some devices like Thread ones, the network it operates on is more stable and reliable.

Scalability

Matter is designed to be flexible and adaptable, whether you have a small or large network. With smart systems that operate using the Matter standard, you don't need to worry about the internet coverage range. Even if your home internet fails, you can still manage your devices locally through the Matter controller without relying on the internet connection.

On the other hand, Zigbee is better suited for smaller to medium-sized networks. Zigbee has the capability to transmit data over long distances. In indoor environments, Zigbee devices have an impressive range, allowing them to communicate reliably within distances of 10 to 100 meters. When used in open-air settings, Zigbee can extend its reach even further, with link distances reaching up to 300 meters.

However, the range of Zigbee can be influenced by various factors such as the power output of the devices, interference from other wireless devices, and obstacles in the environment. As the distance increases, signal strength may weaken based on experimental observations. While Matter is more flexible in its scalability, Zigbee works better with small to medium-sized networks.

Authentication

Matter employs robust authentication mechanisms to ensure a strong layer of protection for users. It relies on advanced techniques like public-key cryptography and certificates. These methods ensure that only authorized devices can communicate with each other, preventing unauthorized access and maintaining the integrity of your smart home network. With Matter, you can have peace of mind knowing that your data and privacy are well-guarded.

On the other hand, Zigbee follows a slightly different path when it comes to authentication. It uses access control mechanisms, pre-shared keys, and device-specific keys. These methods also offer a level of protection for your data and privacy, but they differ from the cryptographic approach taken by Matter. Zigbee's authentication methods have been used for quite some time and have undergone longer periods of testing, which may instill a sense of trust among smart home users.

Although their paths to protect security of users are slightly different, both Matter and Zigbee provide users with strong authentication mechanisms to safeguard their data and privacy.

Licensing fee and membership

Both Matter and Zigbee require no licensing fee. But the membership board of these two protocols consists of different brands and manufacturers. As Zigbee released earlier, until the date of publication of this article, the membership board of the Zigbee Alliance comprises more than 300 prominent semiconductor manufacturers, technology firms, OEMs, and service companies from various industries.

Six months after its launch, Matter standard has a total of 29 promoters and 281 participants. With its universalization, more and more manufacturers and brands will join in.

Zigbee or Matter, Which one is Better?

Still torn between these two protocols? Let’s dive into their advantages and downsides to help you make the right choice for your needs.

Items Matter Zigbee
Pros - Easy to purchase and use
- Multi-admin capability
- Local control over devices
- High node support
- Low bandwidth consumption
- Easy for installation and control
Cons - Limited supporting devices
- Basic controls of devices
- Lack of time for testing
- Low transmission rate
- Potential threats to security
- Higher cost

Matter: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Easy to purchase and use: With the release of its first version in the first half of 2023, famous companies and brands like Apple, Google, Amazon and Samsung all announced that their main smart home products are Matter-compatible right now, which makes the Matter standard hands-off to smart homeowners.
  • Multi-admin capability:  Matter allows users to control devices via multiple smart home systems at the same time. For example, you can turn on your lights from the SmartThings app via a Samsung smartphone and then turn them off from the Apple Home app on an iPad.
  • Local control over devices:  Through the Matter standard you can control your devices locally rather than over the internet. Matter devices will continue to work even if their manufacturers go out of business or suddenly decide to shut down their servers, making it a future-proof choice.

Cons:

  • Limited supporting devices: Several smart home device categories aren’t supported in Matter version 1.0, like security cameras, smart doorbells, and household appliances. These products are widely used in smart home systems. Currently, clients may not be able to enjoy their smart devices fully. We have to wait and see if Matter will be able to integrate these devices into their system in future versions.
  • Basic controls of devices: Some smart home product categories only offer basic controls. For instance, Matter doesn’t support energy monitoring from connected wall plugs, so you may also need to install an app to do anything other than basic controls and settings.
  • Lack of time testing: Matter standard is still in its infancy. To fulfill all its features and functions, it’s a matter of time. We’re waiting to see if Matter can offer true cross-platform interoperability as promised.

Zigbee: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • High node support: Zigbee can support thousands of nodes together, including 65000 nodes under a single network. This aids in expanding the transmission range.
  • Low bandwidth consumption: Zigbee’s technology is suitable for devices with low power. Since it does not require much bandwidth, small smart devices which are battery-operated, object tags, sensors, etc., are suitable for this technology. It also acts as an alternative to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies.
  • Easy installation and control: Zigbee has an easy and economical installation process. You can also control the Zigbee system through different devices, making your home more intelligent.

Cons:

  • Low transmission rate: The transmission rate of Zigbee is comparatively lower than Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. It is also not suitable for transmitting data at high speed.
  • Potential threats for security: Zigbee technology has a lot of security threats. Since it is prone to interferences, intentional interferences can cause loss of services provided by the network, theft of data from a node, or theft of an entire node.
  • Higher cost: Installing a Zigbee system can be expensive. The size of the network and the range of the network will determine the cost of implementation. The availability of compatible products and devices and the level of complexity of the technology may also affect the cost.

Bonus Tips: List of Devices Required to Use Zigbee and Matter

Matter and Zigbee are distinct protocols that each require a set of devices to work.

List of Devices Required for Matter

  • Matter controller: The Matter controller is the brain of your smart home. It onboards all Matter devices to your home network, controls them, and manages communication and automation. Matter controllers are not brand-specific, for example, Apple HomePod Mini, Amazon Echo, Google Nest Hub and Samsung SmartThings hubs can all be used as Matter controllers.
  • Thread border router: Used for Thread devices, this router can extend your home mesh network range. Sometimes Matter controllers are also Thread border routers.
  • Smart home apps: To add devices and set up automation and routine for rooms, Matter requires different smart home apps. Distinct monitor and control devices may also work via different smart home apps.

List of Devices Required for Zigbee

  • Zigbee coordinator: The Zigbee coordinator acts as the network's "brain" and is typically connected to a computer or a gateway device. It initiates the network formation process and allows other Zigbee devices to join the network. Once the network is established, the coordinator coordinates the communication between devices by facilitating the exchange of messages.
  • Zigbee end devices: Zigbee end devices do not route traffic to other nodes, making them suitable for mobile and battery-operated devices. These devices are usually asleep most of the time and only provide basic functionality. As they cannot send or receive directly with other devices, typical ZigBee end devices are simple peripherals like motion sensors, switches, attenuators, etc.
  • Zigbee router: The router is the main powered device for Zigbee systems. Usually, they
    use smart plugs, send sensor information to the coordinator and route data from Zigbee end devices to the coordinator.

FAQs

Will Matter replace Zigbee?

Currently, Matter is not yet a fully ratified standard, so it is not replacing Zigbee entirely. However, Matter has an ambitious goal of enabling communication between devices using the IP (Internet Protocol) networking protocol. The initial specification of Matter is expected to work on WiFi and Thread network layers while utilizing Bluetooth Low Energy for the commissioning process.

It's important to note that at the moment, the availability of Matter-compatible devices is relatively limited compared to the widespread use of Zigbee protocol. Many popular smart home brands still primarily offer Zigbee-compatible devices, making Zigbee the mainstream choice in the market.

Is Zigbee Compatible With Matter?

Currently, direct compatibility between Z-Wave and Zigbee devices with Matter is not available. However, it is possible to connect Z-Wave and Zigbee devices to a Matter system using a bridge or gateway device. This allows these devices to integrate and communicate with the Matter ecosystem.

On the other hand, devices that are specifically designed to be Matter-compatible can seamlessly work with the Zigbee protocol without the need for any additional devices or bridges.

Where can I buy Matter devices?

As of the publication of this article, the following device categories are supported in Matter: light bulbs and light switches; plugs and outlets; locks; thermostats and other HVAC controllers; blinds and shades; sensors; televisions and streaming video players; wireless access points; and bridges.

The four big platforms - Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Home, and Samsung SmartThings - all support Matter, which means you can use any of their apps, smart speakers, hubs, and smart voice assistants to manage your Matter devices. Just check their online stores and search for products with Matter compatibility.

What are the differences between Zigbee and Z-Wave?

Zigbee differs from Z-Wave in many aspects like frequency, speed, smart home interference, compatibility, etc. Zigbee uses a frequency that is much faster at getting data to and from your device than Z-Wave. It can also connect to more devices. However, it interferes with devices using Wi-Fi, and it uses more power.

Conclusion

Both Zigbee and Matter aim to help people make their homes smarter. Released in late 2022, Matter standard needs more time to test its capabilities to break down layers between different protocols and brands. After more than 10 years of development, Zigbee protocol has become one of the most popular smart home automation solutions. The differences between them mainly lie in Operating OSI layers, interoperability, networking topology and scalability.

Both Matter and Zigbee have their advantages and downsides. Hopefully, this article provided you with the information you need to determine which system is best for you. Do you currently have a smart home system in your home? What tips and ideas can you share about how to make your smart system work optimally? Share this article with your friends and leave your comment below!

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Editor from Reolink. Interested in new technology trends and willing to share tips about home security. Her goal is to make security cameras and smart home systems easy to understand for everyone.