Smart lighting is one of the most popular parts of the modern smart home. With more and more brands popping up, the industry continues to grow exponentially. Smart lighting is essentially lighting of various types that can be controlled wirelessly, using wireless communication protocols such as Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, or LoRa – just to name a few.
Starting out with mainly just smart bulbs, manufacturers that produce smart lighting now make a host of other lighting options; such as strip lights, pedestal lights for outdoor walkways, and even a variety of decorative light fixtures which includes lighted wall panels.
Smart lighting can display a dazzling array of colors, be dimmed and brightened, and in general be configured any way your heart desires.
However, with changing needs and new spins on technology, newer, faster, and more secure wireless connection protocols are becoming available. These are poised to enhance the functionality of the smart home.
Two of the most recent additions to the wireless communication family are Thread and Matter (formerly called “CHIP”). Both have their own unique advantages and play their own special role in the smart home world.
But what are Thread and Matter, and which smart lighting products support their use? The table below summarizes exactly what we know right now – which unfortunately is that many companies haven’t declared their intention!
|Yes, in the near future
|Possibly, with future products
|Yes, working on it
|Yes, via HomeKit and SmartThings
What Is Thread?
Thread is a wireless communication protocol that’s essentially an upgrade from, and rival to, traditional Wi-Fi. It uses the familiar 802.15.4 radio technology, much like Zigbee – but with a kick. Thread addresses nearly all of the issues that smart home owners typically face with traditional Wi-Fi, as well as other communication protocols, and want remedied.
For example, it uses very little power – thereby reducing the need to recharge your devices that need charging, resulting in longer battery life.
Thread also has low latency – meaning, device response time is faster than Wi-Fi. This is definitely convenient if you have say, lights that come on when motion is detected so that your security cameras get a better view of what’s going on. A faster response time means the difference between actually seeing a burglar’s face – or just his back.
Thread also operates via a self-healing mesh network. Operating on a mesh network means that each device on the network is a node, able to communicate with the next device – essentially eliminating the need for a centralized hub such as a Wi-Fi router. There might be a dedicated hub, but this can sometimes be built into an individual product (like the Nanoleaf’s wall panels), and there won’t be a need for every device to connect back to the centralized hub.
The fact that it’s self-healing is convenient because if one device, or node, on the network isn’t operating properly, the signal will automatically go to the next available device, instead of the whole network shutting down and not being able to function at all.
It’s also designed to be able to work with various systems such as Matter, Apple HomeKit, Weave, and many other communication standards.
Looking at these benefits alone, there’s no wonder many manufacturers are seeking to add Thread support via Thread border routers to their line of smart lighting!
What Is CHIP/Matter?
Matter is a new operability protocol developed by some of the biggest contenders in the smart home sector – Google, Amazon, the ZigBee Alliance, and Apple. Samsung and a few other companies also took part in the development of CHIP/Matter.
On October 4th, 2022, came the long-awaited release of Matter 1.0! It’s already started helping the smart homes of many operate more efficiently.
Matter differs from Thread in function, as instead of being a separate wireless communication protocol, it actually connects them. This means, Matter allows you to connect and control all of your smart devices, regardless if they’re from different manufacturers and communication protocols, with just one device.
CHIP, which stands for Connected Home over IP, was the name originally used when Matter was in the development stages. The term CHIP is no longer used, and it’s simply called Matter. The following is from an early presentation from the CHIP (i.e. Matter) project:
Matter makes the idea of a smart home ecosystem become a reality. An ecosystem, in terms of the smart home, is when multiple devices from different manufacturers and communication protocols are all operated together, with one remote or device controlling them all – as opposed to each being controlled by their respective hubs.
For example, instead of using the Nanoleaf app to control your lights, you can use a Matter-compatible remote and be able to control all of your Nanoleaf lights. This extends to lights from any other brand as well. As long as they’re compatible with Matter, you can control all of your lights with just that one remote.
Matter is designed to work with and unite Wi-Fi, as well as Thread, and to a limited capacity, Bluetooth.
Matter was developed by the Zigbee Alliance – now known as the Connectivity Standards Alliance. Even though they’ve been developed alongside each other, Zigbee isn’t directly compatible with Matter just yet. A Bridge, such as Hue’s Bridge, will still be needed.
Things are still up in the air as to whether Z-Wave will also join the Matter family. Being that Z-Wave developers pride themselves on interoperability, it’s possible that, in time, they’ll become part of the Matter family as well. The Z-Wave Europe arm is now a participating member of Matter, but whether the entire Z-Wave project follows suit is still unknown.
Smart Lights That Support Thread
One of the first, and most notable manufacturers to integrate Thread into their smart lighting, is the forward-thinking Nanoleaf.
In 2021, they introduced Thread border routers into their line of smart lighting panels, as well as their Smarter Essentials line of smart bulbs and light strips. Doing this put them in line to have one of the most advanced smart lighting setups on the market today.
However, when it comes to other big-name contenders such as LIFX, Ring, Philips, and TP-Link’s Kasa, the word on support for Thread in their smart lights is still up in the air. These companies haven’t announced whether they will, or won’t support the newer IoT protocol.
It could possibly be that doing so would require significant updates and changes to already established systems and equipment, and they’re weighing the pros and cons of such an undertaking. Whatever the case may be, they haven’t announced anything regarding their planned support for Thread.
For example in the case of Philips Hue, the Hue Bridge v2 would require new hardware to support Thread (it currently just supports ZigBee and Ethernet), so it’s unlikely that Hue will support Thread unless a Hue Bridge v3 is announced.
However, it stands to reason as time goes on, and once they realize that the competition is upping their game and offering Thread support, they may have to as well. In order to stay in the running, especially with their more tech-savvy customers, these companies may be more willing to make adjustments in the future.
Smart Lights That Support CHIP/Matter
As one of the pioneers when it came to introducing Thread to their lighting products, Nanoleaf has also recently introduced Matter support as well.
Philips Hue has also recently announced that they’ll be introducing Matter support to their bulbs and several other lighting products. They’ll be doing this via an update to the Hue Bridge v.2 – so don’t worry, no new hardware to purchase. So what does this mean for you?
Well, if you’re the average, casual user of Philips Hue, you probably won’t notice a difference. However, if you plan on running any kind of wider ecosystem (a.k.a. using smart home devices from multiple manufacturers) then this is a game-changer for you.
In addition to Philips Hue, after some debating, Wyze has also decided to join the alliance and support Matter. However, right now, none of the Wyze lights or other products currently offer support for Matter. But they’re steadily evaluating how and when they will make their products Matter compliant.
LIFX’s new parent company, Feit Electric, says they will start to work on Matter support, especially now that Matter 1.0 has been released.
It’s to be noted, that even though a company or manufacturer doesn’t expressly say they’ll support Matter, it may still be possible to control the devices they make with Matter-compliant devices. This is because Matter unites different communication protocols.
If the device uses Wi-Fi, Thread, Bluetooth, or even Zigbee, they still may be able to use Matter to control these devices. This depends on the exact Matter implementation between different products, though, and it’s hard to say for sure. More will no doubt be revealed as time goes on.
Why Thread and Matter Support Helps Smart Lights
These two up-and-coming wireless protocols are set to make the world of the smart home user that much easier.
When it comes to Thread, it offers low power consumption, thereby reducing your energy bill and the battery usage of any devices that are using Thread. It also features a self-healing, mesh network that is stronger than a traditional Wi-Fi network. What does this mean for you? Reduced response time, and lights that keep on working even if one node or device on the network fails to respond.
Thread also eliminates the need for a separate hub or bridge – a Thread Border Router is often integrated directly into Thread products. This would have been especially convenient in the recent case of Philips Hue upgrading their Hue Bridge. Had they utilized Thread, there would be no need for a new bridge or a bridge at all for that matter – which also reduces cost.
In terms of Matter, the most convenient part of this system is that it allows devices from multiple manufacturers (Google, Amazon, Apple, etc) and multiple wireless communication protocols (Wi-Fi, Thread, Bluetooth, etc) to communicate harmoniously, giving you the ability to control all of your devices from one central point, without having to deal with various hubs and bridges.
Will Thread and Matter Take Over?
Not likely – at least not yet. This question is especially a concern for those who operate Zigbee and Z-Wave systems – and aren’t looking to change that anytime soon. After all, after investing in setting up your smart home a certain way, the last thing you want to have to worry about is making significant changes all of a sudden!
But fear not! Since both Thread and Matter are fairly new and still being improved, they won’t be replacing any current communication standards at the moment. More manufacturers are joining up with Matter, and figuring out how to make their products compliant in the process. All of this takes time.
The same goes for Thread. While Thread has been around a little longer, especially when it comes to Apple HomeKit, many other manufacturers are still navigating the process of including Thread border routers into their devices. This also takes time. Technology is advancing quickly, and while it may seem like it sometimes, it doesn’t happen overnight.
Because so many people already operate Zigbee and Z-Wave devices, it’s highly unlikely that these protocols will get replaced by Matter – but rather be integrated into the system down the line.
The Wave Of The Future
As technology and smart home products continue to advance, Thread and Matter are no doubt going to become two of the biggest players in the smart home sector.
Smart home owners are always looking for new, more convenient, and cost-effective ways to control their smart devices, and there are few options more convenient, and practical, than Thread and Matter.
Because they’re fairly new, there are still many manufacturers and devices that don’t currently support them. But as time goes on, it’s very likely that more and more manufacturers are going to see the value in taking advantage of the many benefits of Thread and Matter, and integrate them into their smart home systems.
So keep an eye out on your favorite smart home products for Thread and Matter logos – because it’s coming!