PARIS –In Internet of Things (IoT) devices, use cases are everything. The problem is that chip designers can’t possibly know all the variations and mutations of IoT apps in real life, unless they hear from customers who actually use the IoT chips in their own IoT devices.
After a year of selling the previous version of multiprotocol wireless IoT SoCs, Silicon Labs is back in Nuremberg, Germany this week, for Embedded World, with a better mousetrap. The company is rolling out EFR32xG12, a portfolio of newly expanded Wireless Gecko SoCs, which it describes as “substantially enhanced” over the Geckos introduced last year.
In hopes of reaching a broader set of market applications, Silicon Labs’ new IoT SoCs integrate more memory, support for switched multiprotocol and a “full featured” MCU, Daniel Cooley, senior vice president and general manager of Silicon Labs’ IoT products, told EE Times.
Why larger memory?
Silicon Labs decided to add four times more flash memory (up to 1,024 kB with a dual-bank architecture) and eight times more RAM (up to 256 kB) than previous Wireless Gecko devices for several reasons, said Cooley. They include enabling better security, supporting “instantaneous switching” between multiple protocol stacks, and supporting over-the-air updates for field upgrades.
Explaining its “full-featured” MCUs, Cooley said the EFR32xG12 now “has a lot of I/O,” able to connect with more sensors and interfaces. Silicon Labs also offers direct support for capacitive touch interfaces, which requires no additional external ICs.
For any IoT SoC, low power is pre-requisite. That’s where the chip’s deep sleep modes can make a difference, keeping the device’s power consumption as low as possible while it’s asleep. By maintaining a little bit of current, the device can revive quickly from deep-sleep with minimal impact on the MCU. Cooley said the new EFR32xG12 SoC maintains current as low as 1.3 microamp while the device is in sleep mode.
As for security in its IoT SoCs, Silicon Labs has added an additional crypto core to RAM. This second on-chip security accelerator allows the new SoCs to run customers’ application-level security independent from the security algorithms multiprotocol radios must run. If radio gets interrupted while running its security algorithms, “radio wins,” said Cooley.
Asked about how Silicon Labs’ IoT SoCs stack up against rivals, Mike Krell, lead IoT analyst at Moore Insights & Strategy, said IoT ICs are a broad category with many players including NXP, Qualcomm, Intel and TI.” But on the short-range wireless IoT chipset segment, Silicon Lab’s Wireless Gecko SoCs compete with Qualcomm, TI and NXP, he noted.
Where Silicon Labs’ Gecko series is different from others is, “a wide array of devices that offer flexibility to those that need a combination of protocols for their designs,” Krell said. They include Bluetooth, 802.15.4 (supporting both Thread and ZigBee) and proprietary 2.4GHz radio. Another key is that Silicon Labs’ chips offer “a range of flash and RAM along with optimized software stacks and a mature set of design tools,” he added.
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