Silicon Labs strengthens IoT portfolio with new SoCs, SDK, and security services

At the Works With 2021 virtual conference this week, Silicon Labs expanded its IoT portfolio with a triple launch of hardware, software, and services, leading to a home-run for the IoT industry that needs to solve challenges around range, power consumption, security, and long-term support. These new solutions include two sub-GHz SoCs that enable a 1+ mile wireless range and 10+ years of battery life, a software development kit (SDK) that provides common building blocks for protocol interoperability, and new security services that extends SDK support to ten years and enables developers to customize their chips such as with advanced security features before leaving the factory floor.

Silicon Labs strengthens IoT portfolio with new SoCs, SDK, and security services

(Source: Silicon Labs)

Claiming the first sub-GHz wireless solutions that combine long-range RF and energy efficiency with certified Arm PSA Level 3 security battery-powered IoT products, Silicon Labs has expanded the Series 2 platform with two new devices: the EFR32FG23 (FG23) and EFR32ZG23 (ZG23) SoCs. These devices support a range of modulation schemes and advanced wireless technologies, including Amazon Sidewalk, mioty, Wireless M-Bus, Z-Wave and proprietary IoT networks. This also means they can be used in a wide range of applications including smart infrastructure, metering, environmental monitoring, connected lighting, industrial controls, electronic shelf labels (ESL), building and home automation.

The new FG23 and ZG23 wireless SoC solutions offer a combination of ultra-low transmit and receive radio power (13.2 mA TX at 10 dBm, 4.2 mA RX at 920 MHz) and “best-in-class” RF (+20 dBm output power and -125.3 dBm RX at 868 MHz, 2.4 kbps GFSK), which make it possible for IoT end nodes to achieve 1+ mile wireless range while operating on a coin cell battery for 10+ years. These SoCs also leverage Secure Vault, certified to PSA Level 3, to safeguard IoT products against software and hardware attacks.

The FG23 targets Amazon Sidewalk, industrial IoT (IIoT), smart city, as well as building and home automation markets that often require battery-powered end nodes with extended wireless communication range capabilities. It provides a flexible antenna diversity feature to enable a “best-in-class” wireless link budget of -111.2 dBm RX @ 920 MHz, 50 kbps GFSK. In addition, the advanced wireless, combined with the FG23 SoC’s low active current (26 µA/MHz) and sleep mode (1.2 µA) make it suited for solution for battery-powered field area network nodes, wireless sensors, and connected devices in difficult to reach locations.

Silicon Labs strengthens IoT portfolio with new SoCs, SDK, and security services

Silicon labs FG23 block diagram (Source: Silicon Labs)

The ZG23 is said to enhance Z-Wave Wireless by adding Secure Vault and offers the same RF and power performance as the FG23 chip. Supporting Z-Wave Long Range and Mesh, Silicon Labs said these are the first SoCs to be optimized for both end devices and gateways and can also support all FG23 protocols. Target applications include  smart home, hotel and multi-dwelling unit (MDU) markets. Ultra-compact ZG23-based SiP modules (ZGM230S), supporting Z-Wave only, will also be available.

Silicon Labs strengthens IoT portfolio with new SoCs, SDK, and security services

Silicon Labs Z-Wave ZG23 block diagram (Source: Silicon Labs)

The wireless SoC solutions brings the industry’s most advanced security for the IoT with a 10- year or greater battery life and a one mile or greater range, said Matt Johnson, president, Silicon Labs, during a virtual presentation. “This isn’t up to one mile or up to ten years. It is one mile or more and ten years or more and with our latest security that is industry-leading and award-winning in the IoT wireless space.”

Why is this a big deal? “First of all having those combinations is really powerful. Imagine a device that’s five × five millimeters and can last that long and operate over that range with that level of security. If you think about our industry, the 2.4-GHz space, 5- and 6-GHz get all the attention and you don’t hear about sub-GHz very often as a general rule and there’s lots of benefits in terms of the range and reliability and robustness that can come with sub-GHz.”

Johnson has seen a resurgence in sub-GHz applications and uses cases, driven by home applications like smoke detectors, garage door openers, and sensors for security or alarms. At the same time in industrial, commercial, and retail markets, sub-GHz is gaining a lot of momentum, which is based less on consumer sentiment and more on “just solid ROI,” he said.

“It means that you can take the latest Amazon Sidewalk, Z-Wave, mioty, Wireless M-Bus, and all the proprietary wireless protocols that our customers have and operate them on this solution,” Johnson said. “It’s been a long time since the industry had an updated solution around sub-GHz especially that brings all the performance, features, and capabilities of a platform like the Series 2 together.”

The FR32FG23 SoCs in 5 × 5 mm QFN40 and 6 × 6 mm QFN48 packages and FG23 development kits are available now, with kit pricing starting at $39.99. The EFR32ZG23 SoCs, ZGM230S modules, and accompanying kits will be available to the general industry in Q4 2021.

Unify SDK

The second product launch is a software product design to help solve some of the challenges around IoT wireless connectivity with common building blocks for gateways, wireless access points (Aps), and IoT end products. The Unify Software Development Kit (SDK) enables IoT devices and gateways to interoperate across current and emerging wireless protocols, by providing protocol-specific translations for Z-Wave and Zigbee today and later for Bluetooth, Thread, OpenSync, and Matter. (The downloads are available via GitHub.)

Johnson said the Unify SDK will dramatically simplify IoT wireless network interoperability with its “design once, support all” capability.

Silicon Labs strengthens IoT portfolio with new SoCs, SDK, and security services

Silicon Labs Unify SDK diagram (Source: Silicon Labs)

With the IoT industry ready to approve Matter, an industry-unifying connectivity standard, IoT developers can use the Unify SDK to continue developing products and platforms on existing wireless protocols like ZigBee and Z-Wave, and later enable cross-platform wireless communication with Matter devices. The IoT devices will be able to download Unify SDK to enable Matter and run two protocols simultaneously. Supporters of Matter include Apple, Amazon, Comcast, Google, and Schneider Electric.

Matter continues to gain momentum, said Johnson. “It’s really unique in our industry to have companies that haven’t always historically worked well together, and might even be competition, coming together for a common purpose and cause and collaborating. It’s taking longer than people want ideally but that’s because we’re doing it right and that’s because we’re making and taking the time to make sure this is durable and delivers on that experience in terms of ease of connectivity and robustness that everyone wants and is looking for.”

Silicon Labs’ Series 1 and Series 2 wireless solutions will be Matter-compatible once it is approved for market availability. Silicon Labs is the largest source code contributor of any Semiconductor company, and the the third largest code contributor with over 20 percent of the source code for Matter [on GitHub], said Johnson.

Unify SDK will allow translation between protocols. A good example is if a customer or developer wants to support Matter but has Zigbee or Z-Wave devices that the gateway needs to support, said Johnson. The solution will allow that translation for a Matter network to talk through the gateway to a ZigBee network or Z-Wave network and keep those devices communicating and the networks viable and useful, he added.

The software resides on the gateways and APs. “In the IoT space everything needs to talk to something and most often those are gateways or access points that the devices talk to. The problem is with so many different ecosystems, technologies, and protocols, those gateways and access points are just becoming the hubs for so many different protocols and so much complexity,” said Johnson.

Imagine a consumer who has a ZigBee or Z-Wave network in their home and here is that Matter product or products that they’ve been waiting for, and it won’t work with the existing devices in the home, he said. “That’s not going to help our industry.”

The SDK will help developers more easily and efficiently develop their software for their gateways and it provides a better user experience in the industry, said Johnson. “We’ve developed the API data models, and the protocol translations between the devices and we’re making it available to the industry because we think this will actually help the industry move forward.”

Johnson said “this is a big deal. It currently supports ZigBee and Z-Wave and we’re adding Bluetooth, Thread, Matter, and OpenSync support soon because we think that’s really the right combination of translations that’ll be needed initially to provide that ideal developer and consumer experience.”

Security services

Silicon labs also announced new Security Services to support the implementation of Zero Trust security architectures, which includes IoT device identity injection certificates and 10-year SDK support. The new security offerings complement the company’s Secure Vault technologies with a “first-of-its-kind” Custom Part Manufacturing Service (CPMS) for wireless SoCs and modules.

The new services – CPMS and Long-Term Software Development Kit (SDK) Support Service (LTSSS) – provide security services for IoT products throughout their lifecycle.

The CPMS is a secure provisioning service that helps IoT developers to customize their IoT products with advanced security features. The CPMS is accessed via a secure web portal that enables developers to securely provision Silicon Labs’ wireless SoCs and modules with Secure Vault technology features such as Secure Boot and Secure Debug, as well as a Secure OTA bootloader, customer specific keys, standard flash programming, and custom identities for Zero Trust architectures. Secure Vault achieved PSA Certified Level 3 status this year.

The custom manufacturing services allows customers for the first time in IoT and IoT wireless to access the end of the manufacturing cycle to program devices, said Johnson.  “A customer can go in through a secure site and influence the devices before they exit our manufacturing. Specifically, they can change things like the part numbers, insert keys – public keys or private keys – as well as do certificate injection into the products. They also can do flash programming as well as enable/disable and configure different security features like tamper protection, secure boot, and secure debug – all of these features are now available for customers for their specific silicon.”

This means the customer is the only one that is programming the security into their devices and they are secure once they leave the manufacturing line from there on out, said Johnson. “This is a shift in our industry that is needed and is inevitable. It’s not available today [in the industry] and we’ve brought it to the industry because it’s something that will be needed moving forward.”

The LTSSS, as part of the security services, minimizes the need for re-testing and re-certification due to code changes, while supporting GSDK releases for up to 10 years with security patches and bug fixes.

“We have an SDK cycle  where we release our software updates a couple times every year as well as like many companies a lot of patches along the way but those are only supported in general for about a year,” said Johnson. “We’re seeing the need for longevity and durability of those SDKs because if they get updated, our customers have to re-certify and re-qualify and that takes time, effort, investment, and costs for our customer base.”

The new services support global cybersecurity and communication standards, such as the U.S. executive order mandating the implementation of Zero Trust security architectures, as well as Matter and Wi-SUN requirements for secure identities.

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