Silicon Labs has been expanding its footprint in India since the last couple of years. They recently announced a new (and a bigger) office for their India team. What’s driving this change in strategy? What are the plans for the future? Rahul Chopra, Editor, spoke to Matt Johnson, President and CEO, Silicon Labs and Manish Kothari, SVP and Head of India Center, to find out.
Q. How do you define your market? And how’s it been the last couple of years for you and your team?
A. Matt:We focus exclusively on the IoT wireless space, and it’s fascinating for us that this space is growing at a pace we have never seen before. Our market has the potential for growing to 50-60 billion units a year in the next decade, which is incredible. We have never seen anything like that in the semiconductor space. We are the largest company in the world that is dedicated to IoT wireless. We are making good progress. We have doubled the size of the company in the past two years, but we are even more excited about the future. We are in the middle of a really strong product cycle in an industry that is gaining momentum.
Q. How do you define Silicon Labs?
A. Matt: We provide all the requisite low-power wireless technologies for IoT and what they will become in the future. Our solutions comprise a wireless SoC, which includes all the requisite components that someone would need, including computing, security, and all the peripherals. In some cases, ours is the only IC in the design because it is a complete system solution. We also provide the complete software support that goes with it, including all the tools for the developers, and all the services and support as well.
What makes us unique is that we can provide a complete solution through the module and certification for our customers. So, if a customer wants a lot of uniqueness, like hand-holding and high-touch, or a turnkey solution that just works with low or no touch, we can provide all of that.
Q. What is your vision for Silicon Labs?
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A. Matt:Our position and momentum is to become what Intel and Qualcomm were for their respective spaces, and we truly have that opportunity. Over a year ago, we divested everything unrelated to our IoT focus, because we saw our market taking off for the next decade and beyond. We wanted to ensure we did not miss the opportunity to be two or three times larger than any other competitor in the space.
Q. Is Wi-Sun a good bet for smart city applications? What about cellular or other wireless options?
A. Matt: It is a tough space for customers to navigate. Cellular is a good option for some classes of applications, but it is also expensive and power-hungry. There is also LoRaWAN as an option. The challenge with LoRaWAN is that it is a closed standard, with licensing fees for users. This limits the scalability of LoRaWAN and is part of the reason I said no to this space for a long time as there was nothing open.
So, there is a big gap out there for electrical distribution, metering, etc kind of applications, where you may need many nodes which can operate in a mesh network or framework and work through each other and have a super-long battery life, sometimes up to 10 years. That implies years of operating openly, with industry-leading security. That is a unique combination of features which were not supported by any device, till now.
At the risk of sounding biased, I believe we have cracked it. Our chipset, FG25, supports Wi-SUN and is currently being sampled in our Alpha program. We have more interested customers than we have slots in the program, and they are waiting for their turn to move into it. This shows the demand for, and interest, in this space. The Wi-SUN momentum over the last two or three years has accelerated and not slowed down at all. So, when you step back and say, well, what happened? Why isn’t 5G moving faster? I think it will, as we said, but this type of solution hits a sweet spot in the market where major growth is occurring. There was nothing that truly served this and hit all those checkboxes, but this one does.
Q. How do you see the evolution of 5G? Is that a potential threat or do you consider it an enabler?
A.Matt: We consider it an enabler and an important component of IoT. To understand it, let us pick smartphones or the handset space, which were born and rely on cellular, but they also support multiple other wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and others. The IoT will be no different. We’re capable of doing and providing a solution that can support wireless, up to three kilometers, and can operate on a watch battery or coin cell battery for 10 years. Some of these applications need hundreds of thousands of end nodes. Cellular battery life is measured in days or maybe weeks, and we are talking about a battery that could run for about a year.
There is a whole set of devices that sit on the true edge that would never be possible without this type of cost and power battery life that we can bring. Cellular can connect a lot of little devices to a longer-range network. It’s a very symbiotic relationship and has moved a lot slower in 5G and IoT than people thought or expected. Low-power wireless technologies, such as Thread, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, have just exploded in the IoT space, but we have been able to double our size over the last couple of years because our adoption strategy was strong. I do expect 5G to play a bigger role over time, but it won’t be a majority role for sure. It would be very complimentary.
Q. Why should CTOs be well-versed with Amazon Sidewalk? Why is it important, and for what use cases?
A. Matt: Amazon Sidewalk creates shared wireless networks connecting IoT devices at home and beyond the front door, across the entire neighborhood, and even the city. By providing the most complete, reliable, and one-stop-shop wireless development solution for Amazon Sidewalk, we want to simplify the process for developers, reduce costs, and accelerate time to revenue for Amazon Sidewalk IoT devices. In addition to extending connectivity beyond the front door, Amazon Sidewalk can be used by IoT applications to deliver end-users convenience while opening up new possibilities for device manufacturers.
Manish: Amazon Sidewalk can use three different PHYs at the radio layer to address the different networking use cases:
Bluetooth Low Energy radio PHY can be used for Amazon Sidewalk applications in or near the home with short-range connectivity for devices such as environmental sensors and connect a device to a smartphone with Amazon Sidewalk coverage.
GFSK radio PHY can cover up to one-acre lot and can address applications that need to cover detached buildings and yards such as pool, spa, and water mitigation. GFSK can even support smart city and neighborhood applications with Amazon Sidewalk coverage.
The CSS (Chirp Spread Spectrum) radio PHY can reach several miles to support applications where devices are far from the nearest gateway—these can include smart neighborhoods, universities, and agriculture with Amazon Sidewalk coverage.
Q. Can you explain what’s Matter? And the role Silicon Labs has played in its rise to prominence?
A. Matt: Matter, formerly named project Connected Home over IP, or project CHIP, is designed to provide interoperable, reliable, secure connectivity across IoT devices and networks. Matter simplifies both product development and the end-user experience by providing a unified connectivity standard for a wide range of smart home and commercial applications, including LED bulbs, door locks, HVAC, commercial lighting, and access control.
In May 2021, Silicon Labs announced that wireless solutions are available for the development of Matter end products that support Thread, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth protocols. Silicon Labs Matter solution enhances the connected product experience across major ecosystems, including Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google. By sharing our extensive wireless experience with the Matter community, and providing more than 20% of the source code, we are bringing new opportunities to the future of IoT connectivity. Our wireless solutions for Matter allow developers to focus on innovation and bring products to market that enable a seamless consumer experience.
Manish: We are working towards developing the future of reliable connectivity with Matter. The company has been heavily involved in Matter development with a wide-ranging suit of development tools, software, and wireless solutions available from the Series 1 and 2, including MG12, MG21, WF200, WFM200, and RS9116. That’s why the CSA included us in Amsterdam to celebrate the launch of Matter 1.0 in November of last year. As Matt said, it really is bringing the industry together.
Q. Any major contribution by the India centre recently?
A. Matt: One of our recent launches—a Wi-Fi Six and BLE combination, a wireless SoC—that is Matter-ready. Named the Silicon Labs SiWx917, the device has twice the battery life of previous solutions, which is remarkable. That product was developed by the India Team. This is a remarkable transformation and moment for us as a company, as we didn’t have a position in India two years ago.
In last September, we announced the opening of our new development centre in Hyderabad. This is a remarkable milestone and moment for us as a company. This credit goes to Manish for what he has done here. He truly led this and walked us to this point where it is not just about the size and scale of this site, it is also about the products that are coming out of here. And we are just beginning this journey. We are excited about that.
Manish: Our Hyderabad office is the largest and fastest growing wireless development centre, and I am proud to say that we have more than 500 engineers, and probably will have more in the coming years. Hence, it’s a remarkable journey that we have gone through and contributed to a variety of different areas that Matt just described.
It’s very interdisciplinary, like what we do. I will just give you a flavour of the skillsets we employ: computer science, electronics, and people with backgrounds in physics, math, and materials. They all come together in hardware engineering and software engineering applications to build this ultra-low-power SoC.
Q. Where does India fit in the overall scheme of things?
A. Matt: Historically, India has not been a large market for us. As we are moving forward, we see the market developing, and we see opportunity and potential here. We want to capture that and we are starting to make moves and initiatives to better cover and service the market.
Manish: The market is starting to grow. If you look at smart metering, one of the largest companies globally that is a customer for us is in India. It is going to be exciting times ahead as a market as well.
Q. What is your vision for the India centre? What is your goal for Manish and the team?
A. Matt: Manish and I share the same vision for the site. We want this to be the region’s premier, leading wireless technology centre. It is the fastest growing and largest site for us as a company. Our vision for the site is that it is not just a support site or a complementary site. It is a core leading force to be reckoned with in our industry. That is the way we are approaching the office setup, the hiring of the talent, and the leadership. That’s our goal and vision for the site.
Q. Any highlights or features of the new office that’s been set up by Silicon Labs?
A. Manish: Hyderabad, rightly termed as the Knowledge City, has been a vibrant centre of technology innovation, including some of the best universities, top global companies in research and manufacturing, and thriving startups. Our Hyderabad office is home to a talented team of hardware, software, and applications engineers. The Hyderabad wireless development centre is instrumental to our innovation and growth. It is going to be a Centre of Excellence for integrated hardware and software platforms, user-friendly development tools, and an unsurpassed ecosystem of new wireless technologies to boost innovation and automation for our customers.
The office houses more than 10,000 square feet (929 square metres) of hardware and software labs and ample breakout spaces for fostering collaboration and innovation. Other amenities include quick access to eateries, socialising venues, and public transport.