PARIS—Silicon Labs (Austin, Texas), with focused keenly on the Internet of Things market, has come to Embedded World, a tradeshow in Nuremberg, Germany, this week to roll out a family of multi-protocol SoC devices, dubbed as Wireless Gecko.
The Wireless Gecko SoCs are based on ARM Cortex-M4 core. They integrate a 2.4 GHz radio with up to 19.5 dBm output power and advanced hardware cryptography.
Silicon Labs described the portfolio as “highly optimized for a variety of IoT use cases.”
The Wireless Gecko portfolio, in fact, consists of three families with variant wireless protocol combinations required by different IoT applications. They include a Blue Gecko family specialized for Bluetooth low energy connectivity, the Mighty Gecko family with ZigBee and Thread connectivity for mesh networks, and the Flex Gecko family providing proprietary wireless protocol options.
Taking advantage of energy-efficient Gecko MCU technology originally designed by Energy Micro, acquired by Silicon Labs in 2013, the Austin, Texas-based company has committed to the IoT market. With Wireless Gecko, the company has integrated a multiprotocol 2.4 GHz RF transceiver in a single-die solution with scalable memory options (up to 256 kB flash and up to 32 kB RAM).
Daniel Cooley, vice president of marketing for IoT products at Silicon Labs, told EE Times, “Where we are gaining tractions is our software, and our tools that allow customers to go to the market very quickly.”
Cooley pointed out that Silicon Labs writes all the software stacks “in-house.” When customers use multiple protocols, these software stacks work together, right out of the box. The same can’t be said about other solutions using software stacks from different sources, “because nobody writes the code in the same way.”
“Developing wireless products is hard enough,” said Cooley. But “things get even harder, when you add to that process things like security, antenna tuning, battery life, FCC certification and updating/managing products on the field.” He added, “The cost of ownership of connecting all these IoT devices could explode.”
The value a chip company like Silicon Labs brings to IoT is no longer just about chips. “The conversation has already shifted from the Mega Hertz to a cost-of-ownership model.”
(Source: Silicon Labs)
Tom Hackenberg, principal analyst, Embedded Processors at IHS Global Inc., Technology, pointed out four basic must-have features of SoCs designed for IoT.
They include: the ability to join an internet protocol (IP) network, having the right connectivity solution, security and energy efficiency.
In joining the IP network, “having an integrated transceiver for wireless” is important, says Hackenberg, since it offers “significant savings.” By savings, he means not just reducing the number of components but the time and expense required to design, calibrate, test and certify the connectivity. “This can be a significant saving when bringing new products to market,” he said.
Hackenberg also said that having the right connectivity “can be a make or break decision in limiting the markets or practical lifespan of the product.”
Lee Ratliff, principal analyst, Connectivity & IoT at IHS, sees “multi-protocol chips” as “a good way to address IoT fragmentation.” These chips can enable a product to join multiple ecosystems with varying protocol requirements. In other words, he said, “The same device could use Bluetooth for a HomeKit ecosystem, use ZigBee for a Smart Things ecosystem, and use Thread for a Weave ecosystem.”
Security is “finally gaining the market interest it deserves,” according to Hackenberg. “No connected device should be without security anymore. It should be embedded and active by default in the design process and easy for the user to implement correctly.”
Obviously, energy efficiency is “a must-have,” Hackenberg said. “Reducing heat and energy consumption to existing designs and prolonging time between charges for battery operated devices are crucial differentiating factors for IoT applications.”
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