Official Blog of Silicon Labs

      • Connected Lighting Design Simplified

        WYALLEN | 09/270/2016 | 04:00 PM

        There’s a legend about Thomas Edison being asked about the 10,000 experiments he did leading up to his first working light bulb. As the story goes, he answered with, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” It’s been 137 years since the first successful light bulb test, and for most of that time the electric light has not changed as dramatically as other century-old technology. That is until recently with the Internet age ushering lighting into new territory. According to IHS report, more than 92 million wireless lights will ship this year, and that number is expected to swell to more than 243 million by 2020.




        The benefits of connected lighting are growing all the time, from cost savings and convenience to data analytics and even health and wellness, and these gains are driving adoption in commercial and industrial markets. Added to the cost benefits, the convenience of being able to control and monitor lighting is attractive. Developers in this industry are facing two external pressures. First, cost targets for this market are excruciatingly low. Second, virtually everyone knows how a light bulb should behave; flip a switch and it turns on or off. It’s simple and instantaneous. Anything that enters the market, therefore, needs to reliably work every time and in a manner consistent with the expectations built up over more than a hundred years of user experience.


        Delivering on these two vectors depends on being able to deal with complex hardware, firmware, and software design. While a lighting manufacturer has expertise in lighting enclosures and power electronics, bringing the necessary wireless expertise to bear on these designs can be tricky.


        This is why we’ve developed the Connected Lighting Reference Designs; to simplify development and provide a solution that optimizes cost and performance. The latest Connected Lighting Reference Design provides a wireless lighting solution in the industry’s smallest wireless module package and takes advantage of the latest EFR32MG chipset for multi-protocol future.


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        In addition to being based on our proven hardware, this reference design includes the ZigBee stack, backed by years of development and testing. The multi-board kit also makes it possible for engineers to develop in the latest Simplicity Studio tools and WSTK, and then test and verify their design while the wireless module is actually inside the real-life bulb.  


        The latest Silicon Labs Connected Lighting Reference Design (RD-0085-0401) includes:

        • Complete kit with lighting module, interposer, and development board
        • Flexible architecture to plug into WSTK development platform
        • FCC/CE pre-certified lighting module hardware
        • ZigBee HA 1.2 pre-certified reference firmware
        • Over-the-air upgradeability (Thread support in the future)
        • Single EFR32MG SoC with ARM® Cortex®-M4 microcontroller and 802.15.4 radio
        • Integrated PA to support up to +20dBm, integrated balun to reduce total BOM cost
        • Industry leading performance (+125°C operation, network scalable to 250 nodes)
        • Simplicity Studio design environment with AppBuilder support to simplify software design


        Get Started with the latest Connected Lighting Reference Design



      • Home Automation Part 5: Meeting the Multiprotocol Challenge

        WYALLEN | 09/257/2016 | 05:20 PM

        This is the last blog of the series and I want to leave you with something forward looking. There are many challenges hindering the growth of the home automation market, one of the largest I see being the fragmentation in both technologies and protocols. Many different wireless technologies appear in this market with options including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Thread in the future for mesh networking, and even proprietary sub-GHz protocols, each fulfilling different needs.


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        Among these connectivity technologies, there are three major blocks that make each wireless protocol unique: the physical layer, the wireless stack, and the application layer.


        If we were writing a “wireless novel,” the physical layer (also known as the radio) is analogous to individual words; the stack is the grammar – the rules for how the words are arranged; and the application layer forms the elaborate, descriptive sentences comprising the novel.


        Take, for example, a connected lighting application in a smart home: the connected light’s radio operates at 2.4 GHz, the stack is Bluetooth Smart 4.1, and the application is custom. A motion sensor, used to automatically turn on the light when someone enters the room, might use a radio operating on a different 2.4 GHz modulation scheme; operating IP-based Thread protocol stack for mesh networking; and the application is open.


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        So how do we get all of these hardware and software elements talking to each other to ensure interoperability? A rapidly emerging trend to ensure device-to-device interoperability in the smart home is the use of multiprotocol SoC devices capable of “speaking” multiple wireless languages.


        This type of system-on-chip implementation is a critical first step to support wireless standards, ensuring interoperability among connected devices supporting these standards. The SoC device must have enough flash memory to be able to store multiple protocol stacks in firmware and to enable dynamic switching among the protocols as devices join the network. Equally important is the application layer software that connects the end user to the hardware. This application layer such as ZigBee Cluster Libraries, OIC, AllJoyn, or Weave should be protocol agnostic, therefore providing a way to unify the underlying wireless protocol standards.


        A holistic hardware and software approach based on these multiprotocol hardware devices, carefully combined with firmware, software, and development tools, will enable an IoT device to effortlessly speak different wireless languages. This unified hardware and software approach to multiprotocol connectivity holds the promise of ensuring seamless interoperability among many disparate smart home devices, from lights to wireless sensors nodes to actuators.


        For more information on Silicon Labs’ wireless offerings, check out

        For more information on Silicon Labs’ Home Automation reference designs, check out


        For a refresh of other topics in this blog series, check out:

        Part 1: Wireless Technologies and Connected Lighting

        Part 2: The Components of Connected Lighting Design

        Part 3: Connected Lighting Uses Cases

        Part 4: All about the ecosystems

      • Home Automation Part 4: All About the Ecosystems

        WYALLEN | 06/173/2016 | 06:50 PM

        I was at Computex a couple of weeks ago when several customers came up and asked me this question: How do I know which products in the market will work with the product I'm developing? Great question indeed. When a customer decides to go the standards route (e.g. ZigBee HA1.2) how do they know which other products will work with theirs? That brings up the topic of ecosystems.


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        What is an ecosystem and how does it relate to IoT? The word "ecosystem" can mean many different things to different people. There are hardware, software, and cloud ecosystems that are all related but different. In the end, a few things remain the same:


        • Diversity
        • Interoperability
        • A common set of rules


        Diversity is a great benefit of any ecosystem. Multiple players in the same ecosystem allows for more things to be connected in the same setup. It also means the suppliers can specialize and work together to build out a larger community. A bigger community of things means a bigger reach in the market.


        Interoperability is closely related to diversity. Interoperability means different "things" from different suppliers can all work together, hence creating a more homogeneous environment. In order to achieve interoperability, a common set of rules is needed and some kind of organization needs to police the compliance to these rules.


        Now let's look at the home automation market segment we have been investigating. If you remember from the first blog in this series, I suggested that ZigBee is an ideal protocol for home automation because of the mesh networking capabilities and mature profiles. Within ZigBee, there are many ecosystems: iControl, wink, SmartThings, just to name a few.


        These ecosystems provide device makers the benefit of their brand recognition, a list of devices that are all interoperable, and their set of rules. Maybe you’re not a fan of the rules, but it’s precisely the rules that are keeping the devices all working with each other. 


        There are 3 main types of ecosystems in the ZigBee home automation space


        First, on one side there is the proprietary, or closed ecosystem. These ecosystems exist because they have non-standard implementation from special requirements. You see this type of closed ecosystems typically in lighting or commercial and industrial applications. 


        Second, on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you will find completely open ecosystems. If you comply to the standard, for example ZigBee HA 1.2, then you can get on the network. However, there is a caveat. The gateway will let your device join the network, but it may or may not recognize all the features or attributes of your device. 


        Finally, the majority of the ecosystems out there fall somewhere in between. These ecosystems can accept other standards compliant devices. However, in order to fully utilize the features and functions on the devices, you will need to be approved by the ecosystems. Sometimes, that is also referred to as “white listing” your devices. 


        Once you decide on the type of ecosystem, what are the steps to joining an ecosystem and which should I choose? Even within the ZigBee ecosystems, each is different. This is because within the standard profiles like HA1.2, there are optional features that an ecosystem may choose to implement.


        But the basic steps are:


          1. Choose a standard protocol, such as the ZHA1.2
          2. Define application requirements
            1. Local control or cloud control: rule creation, notification
            2. Determine application layer requirements: e.g. color control, temperature reading
          3. Find platform provider
            1. Special/additional requirements
            2. Optional feature supported: e.g. device handler, capabilities
          4. Certification or approval
            1. Full suite of testing and certification
            2. White list product approval


        There are many additional non-technical factors that go into selecting an ecosystem: brand recognition, type of devices in the ecosystem, or cost to join. These are things that only the device maker can prioritize and decide.


        Ecosystems are complex and involve many players. I shared some key concepts and questions about ecosystems. There are great benefits to being a part of an ecosystem. But at the end of the day, the answer to joining an ecosystem is not always “yes”.


        Check out our connected home reference designs here, and don’t forget to read the previous blogs below.


        Part 1: Wireless Technologies and Connected Lighting

        Part 2: The Components of Connected Lighting Design

        Part 3: Connected Lighting Uses Cases


      • Home Automation: Connected Lighting Use Cases

        WYALLEN | 05/126/2016 | 05:27 PM

        Riding on the excitement from last week’s Light Fair International conference, I want to continue our blog series with trends and use cases in connected lighting.


        Connected lighting is expanding rapidly in industrial and commercial markets. There are several clear trends I saw last week:

        • Energy efficiency and convenience: more regulations pushing for better energy management
        • Data gathering and valuation: sensors integrated into the system to gather more data
        • Location, location, location: preventive maintenance, space planning, targeted advertisement

        Energy efficiency and convenience was how connected lighting started. The convenience of being able to control lights remotely made it easier to save energy. This was true for home, and also commercial/industrial lighting.


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        While energy efficiency was the start, adding sensors to lights is where it’s going. Many sensors are now being considered in or with the lighting system. Occupancy, ambient light, even temperature sensors can all play a part in being able to control the lights more intelligently. Turning off the lights when no one is in the room is just the tip of the iceberg. For example, various occupancy sensor control requirements have been added, clarified, and expanded in the latest California Energy Code and Standards.


        Energy savings also come in when ambient light conditions help determine whether to turn on the lights. In the same California Energy Code and Standards, it requires all outdoor controls must turn off all the lighting during the day, and at night some kind of sensor is required to turn on only necessary lights. As we gather more data from sensors, we are able to improve the way we control the lights.


        The newest trend is location-based lighting. This is the idea of using lights to determine the location or occupancy of the people. Light suggests activities and people gather where lights are. Since lights are immobile, typically spaced out evenly in industrial, commercial, and even some outdoor locations like parking lots and city centers, they provide the perfect bearing to people’s location.


        There are many use cases for integrating location-based capabilities in a light. In the simplest form, combining the health status and the location of a light, one can preventively determine when to service the light, saving time and money. Using technologies like sensors, or Bluetooth beaconing, one can accurately determine the location of a single person. Aggregating the data over time and space, the information can then be used to determine space utilization efficiency of a warehouse, a super market, or even a parking lot. Another use case of this data could be for retailers to selectively promote their products based on the location of the shopper.


        The trend in connected lighting continues to evolve as we learn more about the environment around us. Wireless is hard. When we get past the wireless design and focus on making the connected lights work to improve our lives, that is where the future is.


        To check out the last topic in this series, click here.

      • Home Automation: Wireless Technologies and Connected Lighting

        WYALLEN | 03/89/2016 | 02:19 PM

        If you want to talk to your lights wirelessly, how do you know what technology to use?


        Wi-Fi is ubiquitous. With an existing infrastructure, it is easy to develop and add a device to a Wi-Fi network. The downside is that the stack is heavy and requires large amount of memory and processing power. There is also a limitation on how many lights can be on the same network. Bluetooth with low energy functionality is another technology that is well known. It is great for accessing and controlling a few devices when you are next to them with your mobile phone. But the number of devices is also limited.




        For a lighting system with tens up to hundreds of lights connected to a single network, these lights need to respond instantaneously, and without fail. The ZigBee networking technology is designed to form robust, self-healing, and scalable local mesh networks, giving the user that “instantaneous” response no matter where the light is on the network. ZigBee also has a dedicated cluster library that defines the exact behavior of lights and other home automation devices. So a ZigBee light switch knows exactly how to talk to a ZigBee light regardless who makes the light. The ZigBee cluster library also introduces standardized way to control the RGB color, color temperature and dimming of lights. Now your lights can easily bring different colors, moods, or brightness to any room.


        ZigBee is a local area network (LAN). This means the devices can talk to each other on the same network quickly and efficiently. There is a routing table on a gateway that calculates the lowest cost to reach each node on the network that includes the signal strength and number of hops to reach the node. This way, the user can be sure to reach each node in the most efficient and robust way. To reach the LAN from outside, one can use the gateway to pass the data. It can serve as a bridge between the internet over Wi-Fi, and the LAN. So now, you can control your light from anywhere in the world.


        Get started with our collection of ZigBee Connected Home Reference Designs.