Silicon Labs Bows 4 IoT Products at "Works With" Conference
Silicon Labs unveiled four products in its Series 2 line at its virtual Works With Developer Conference Tuesday, including one supporting the cross-protocol Matter smart home connectivity standard, which the company expects to be released this fall after several delays. Plans for Matter were first announced in December 2019, with plans to release the standard in a year.
In its Series 2 SoC family, Silicon Labs bowed its first Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth LE family, the SiWx917, designed to be the lowest power, longest battery life Wi-Fi 6 and BLE combo SoC in the industry, CEO Matt Johnson said. He promoted the device’s security, machine learning capability and doubled battery life for Wi-Fi 6. “If you’re changing your door lock batteries every 12 months rather than every six months, that makes a difference,” he said. Longer battery life also opens the door to new applications for Wi-Fi, he said.
The company also announced the FG 25 sub-GHz SoC for the industrial and commercial markets and smart cities, offering a longer range than existing products. “We’re talking 3 kilometers in really dense environments," Johnson said. The Silicon Labs solution supports backward compatibility with the frequency-shift keying transmission method along with future compatibility with orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing. “Supporting open standards like Wi-SUN really matters to our customer base,” he said. Most implementations in the space are there for up to 20 years, “so you don’t want to bet on something that’s closed, or supported by only one company.”
Johnson underscored Silicon Labs’ decision to divest its infrastructure and automotive businesses to Skyworks last year for $2.75 billion (see 2107260015) to focus solely on IoT. The company doubled its size in two years based on the first two products released in the Series 2, he said, “and we just announced a lot more on the platform today.” The company imagines itself as a leader in IoT the way Qualcomm is a leader in processors and Nvidia for graphics processors.
The company’s other two Series 2 announcements were around Matter and Amazon Sidewalk, which Johnson called the two “biggest and fastest trends in our space that are allowing our customers to adopt wireless technologies more easily.” The large-scale effort is "a lot of work, he said. “It’s not just an announcement on Sidewalk, or it’s not just an announcement on Matter: It’s both, and from both we’re supporting all the modulations, all the technologies."
Silicon Labs is also supporting backward compatibility with Matter, Johnson said, giving the scenario of a consumer buying a Matter product in a store, thinking it’s going to work seamlessly with her other smart home devices -- according to the promise of Matter -- and finding out that it’s not compatible with existing Zigbee and Z-Wave implementations when she gets home. “That’s not a great user experience," he said, so Silicon Labs worked with its partners so consumers can have a Matter-compliant device that can access their Z-Wave and Zigbee devices.
Compatibility is key for the future of the smart home, Johnson said. “It’s really important that Matter is a good industry experience and consumer experience; it’s also important that our customers see support for their existing implementations as well as their forward-looking ones.”
Commenting in Q&A on Silicon Labs’ plans to join the Home Connectivity Alliance -- which supports interoperability across long-life appliances, HVAC systems and TVs -- Johnson said, “We’re actively monitoring and watching all the alliance and standards activity out there. As long as a standard is open, and it looks like it has momentum and it will be in critical mass, we will adopt.” A threshold for Silicon Labs is “to make sure we don’t go too far too fast” because of the “herculean amount of work” involved, he said.
On what kind of demand Silicon Labs is seeing for Amazon Sidewalk, Johnson said, “If you had asked a couple of years ago, we would have kind of biased toward the home and those types of applications, which we still very much believe in. But because the approach Sidewalk is taking is different -- where it’s a community network -- it’s opening the door to new applications and other applications” outside the home, he said.
Addressing what he called a “valley of despair,” when Matter didn’t meet its original time to market, Johnson said, “it’s just getting real. This stuff’s hard, and to get all these companies to work together on something this big is a big task.” Momentum isn’t decreasing for Matter, he said, “but it took longer than people wanted.”