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Silicon Labs Hedges Future on IoT

Image courtesy of Pitinan Piyavatin/Alamy smartcities.jpg
Semiconductor supplier Silicon Labs is focusing on IoT applications such as Smart Cities.
Fabless chip company bullish on growth areas such as Smart Cities for silicon and software products.

Silicon Labs has long been known as a semiconductor supplier for wireless products for applications such as Zigbee. The company, however, has in recent years shifted its focus from areas such as communications infrastructure and automotive to the IoT sector, where it hopes to capture growth areas such as Smart Cities.

During a recent interview with Design News, Mitch Klein, Director of Alliances Strategy, noted that Silicon Labs has shifted its development efforts to focus on industry sectors rather than technologies. The company divested its Infrastructure and Automotive business to Skyworks Solutions for $2.75 billion in July 2021, allowing it to focus its efforts completely on wireless interconnectivity solutions. Klein said it was a shift the company was already well-equipped to handle.

“We already had the capabilities in-house,” Klein said, adding that the company has expertise not only in hardware but in software.  Besides his role in Silicon Labs, Klein is secretary for the Wi-SUN Alliance Board, which is involved in IoT activities such as Smart Cities.

Through his work with the Wi-SUN Alliance, Klein said the company started to get involved several years ago in areas such as water and gas metering, particularly in Japan.

Klein noted that municipal governments he has met with are very enthusiastic about the Smart Cities movement. One such agency is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees transportation facilities in the New York City metropolitan area. Klein is trying to get that agency to use Smart Cities initiatives to upgrade infrastructure, even escalators.

“They are responsible for hundreds of escalators and the way they have been monitoring those has been through messages on social media feeds.”

Klein noted that Port Authority, as well as agencies in other cities, would like to tie elements of its infrastructure together—not just escalators but also lighting, parking facilities, and traffic.

Mitchell said educating municipalities, whether they are large or small, was key to implementing Smart City initiatives. “There is no resistance to the technologies. It is a matter of understanding the implications of where to get started.”

Electric vehicle charging is another Smart Cities initiative under discussion. Silicon Labs has discussed a traffic management solution that would enable a tractor-trailer to travel through a town without having to stop for traffic lights, as the lights would be synchronized in a manner that the truck would not have to brake and use energy.

Asides from Smart Cities, Silicon Labs is also looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning. In January, the company unveiled two 2.4 GHz wireless SoCs with integrated AI/ML accelerators, along with a software toolkit to enable developers to quickly build and deploy AI and machine learning algorithms. Silicon Labs expects the co-optimized hardware and software platform to help developers bring AI/ML applications and wireless high performance to battery-powered edge devices. 

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected]

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