Silicon Labs unveils multiprotocol wireless SoCs for the IoT

March 14, 2017

Max the Magnificent-March 14, 2017

When you come to think about it, it's really not so long ago that having even a couple of wireless devices in a building -- home, hotel, hospital -- was considered to be somewhat unusual. Furthermore, if you did have any form of wireless connectivity, it was typically limited to a single protocol, such as WiFi or a proprietary system.

How things have changed. In today's increasingly convoluted multiprotocol IoT environment, it's hard to imagine a home that doesn’t at least boast a mixture of WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled devices, and very often you can also throw a bunch of ZigBee/Thread and proprietary protocol-based systems into the mix.


Today's multiprotocol IoT environment (Source: Silicon Labs)

There are also a variety of multiprotocol connectivity use models for developers to consider as follows:

  • Programmable: In this case, the desired connectivity option can be configured at the factory. For example, consider a single door lock design that can be configured to work with either Bluetooth (BLE) or ZigBee.
  • Switched: The idea here is to support seamless switching from one protocol to another. Consider a sensor device that ships in BLE mode for local control and commissioning via a smartphone, after which it is reconfigured to use ZigBee or Thread and become part of a wireless mesh network.
  • Dynamic: In this case, the application running on the IoT device may time-slice between two different wireless protocols. For example, a connected light may listen for ZigBee packets while sending out a BLE beacon every 100ms.
  • Concurrent: This mode refers to the application simultaneously using multiple protocols and radios. For example, it could be transferring data over a WiFi channel while simultaneously receiving data from ZigBee or Thread-enabled devices.

In order to address developer and consumer demand for multiprotocol capabilities, Silicon Labs has just announced a major expansion to its Wireless Gecko system-on-chip (SoC) portfolio. The new EFR32xG12 SoCs support a broad range of multiprotocol, multiband use cases for home automation, connected lighting, wearables and the Industrial IoT (IIoT).


(Source: Silicon Labs)

In addition to superior RF performance, these SoCs deliver enhanced cryptography acceleration, larger memory options (up to 1 MB), on-chip capacitive touch control, and additional low-power peripherals and sensor interfaces.

The Wireless Gecko portfolio comprises three main families -- Flex, Blue, and Mighty Geckos. With 40+ devices, the Flex Gecko family targets developers of devices based on proprietary wireless networks, including 2.4 GHz and sub-GHz. Typical examples are alarm system companies and metering companies that have large installed bases and whose new products must be backwards compatible with their existing systems.


The Wireless Gecko Portfolio (Source: Silicon Labs)

Next, we have the Blue Gecko family, with 50+ devices that feature a 2 Mbps Bluetooth PHY, providing ample throughput for applications running a Bluetooth 5-compliant stack (the Bluetooth 5 standard enables four times the range, twice the speed, 800 percent greater broadcasting capacity, and improved co-existence with other wireless IoT protocols).

Finally, we have the Mighty Gecko family, which boasts 40+ devices and augments proprietary and Bluetooth capabilities with the ability to support ZigBee and Thread networks. To satisfy the various multiprotocol connectivity use models introduced above, Silicon Labs has optimized its wireless protocol stack architecture to enable efficient switching between different network protocols.

To help secure the IoT, Wireless Gecko SoCs include a second on-chip security accelerator dedicated to the multiprotocol radio and a NIST-certified true random number generator (TRNG). This additional hardware cryptography block runs the latest security algorithms with higher performance and lower power than conventional software implementations.

Wireless Gecko SoC samples and production quantities are available now in 7 mm x 7 mm QFN48 packages, as well as 65-GPIO 7 mm x 7 mm BGA options for feature-rich applications requiring a large number of I/Os (click here to learn more and to order samples and development kits).

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