PARIS — It’s hard to argue with anyone who insists that the Internet of Things (IoT) still has a long way to go, if only because no application-level standards exist to ease interoperability among various IoT devices. An issue possibly even more serious is sloppy IoT security, thrown in as an afterthought more often than not.
But the IoT industry isn’t standing still. Chip vendors are making progress in connectivity, an integral part of the IoT story. Since neither homes nor commercial buildings are built on a single wireless network, IoT chips with built-in multi-protocol support are fast becoming mainstream.
By launching Monday (Nov. 6) what the company describes as “dynamic multi-protocol software” for its Wireless Gecko SoC and module portfolio, Silicon Labs hopes to stand out among a growing list of IoT chip vendors with multi-protocol capability already designed into their hardware. Silicon Labs claims its new software is unique, because it enables “IoT devices to dynamically connect to Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy ecosystems at the same time,” as put it by Daniel Cooley, senior vice president and general manager of IoT products at Silicon Labs.
Lee Ratliff, senior principal analyst for connectivity and IoT, technology, media & telecom at IHS Markit, said, “Off the top of my head, I know that Nordic, TI, NXP, Qorvo, and ON Semiconductor have multi-protocol capability in hardware.”
However, dynamic switching is not prevalent in their solutions. Ratliff told us, “All multi-protocol products and demos I’ve seen have been either programmed (one time switch after device provisioning on the network) or switched (multiple switches between protocols during normal operation, but not real-time dynamic).”
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A variety of IoT use-case scenarios serve to explain the need for dynamic multi-protocol operations. Dynamic time slicing between networks becomes critical, for example, when a primary Thread network must periodically transmit Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon. This also applies when a primary Zigbee network must switch to BLE if an eligible device is present, or when IoT devices have to listen on one network and transmit on another for network translation.
Ratliff said, “Coordinating dynamic switching in software is difficult, even if your hardware is already capable. That’s why this Silicon Labs announcement is important.” Ratliff added that Silicon Labs “has done the hard software work to ensure that dynamic switching is easy and reliable without the OEM needing to write all the low-level radio scheduler software.”
Intelligent Zigbee and Bluetooth Scheduling (Source: Silicon Labs)
Silicon Labs’ Cooley noted, “Think about a wireless network like Zigbee… a low-duty cycle radio network that doesn’t really need to be ‘on’ all the time. In contrast, BLE is an unforgiving wireless network that must be maintained all the time.” A “dynamic multi-protocol radio scheduler” comes into play for time-slicing among two different wireless networks, all the while maintaining multiple radio protocols.
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