Silicon Labs Puts Down $308 Million in Cash to Chart a Roadmap for Wi-Fi 6March 13, 2020 by Gary Elinoff
Silicon Labs is taking over Redpine Signals' connectivity business. What does the San Jose-based startup bring to the table?
In a $308 million deal, Silicon Labs has acquired Redpine Signals’ connectivity business. The rationale behind the purchase? According to the press release, the acquisition moves Silicon Labs one step closer to accelerating the company's "roadmap for Wi-Fi 6 silicon, software, and solutions.”
The deal includes Redpine Signals' Wi-Fi and Bluetooth business and development center with approximately 200 employees in Hyderabad, India. It also includes the startup's ultra-low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth products and intellectual patent portfolio (including Bluetooth Classic IP).
Wi-Fi 6, the driving factor behind the deal, was certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance late last year. In the Wi-Fi Alliance's publication, the Beacon, reporters quoted telecom giant Qualcomm, which asserted that “we’ll be seeing a lot of 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6, launches in the year from the client-side, which is handsets, PCs, and many other things.”
Silicon Labs' acquisition may also have been motivated by the expectation that regulators worldwide will soon allow the extension of Wi-Fi communications into the 6 GHz band. This well-anticipated milestone will allow manufacturers, now including Silicon Labs, to offer devices with far faster data rates and lower latency.
Redpine Signals Fills Silicon Labs' Protocol Gaps
Both Silicon Labs and Redpine Signals are no strangers to a span of IoT wireless protocols.
Silicon Labs has a long history of engagement with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Mesh, and BLE. Additionally, the company produces products in the areas of the IoT, Thread, Zigbee, and Z-Wave.
Silicon Labs' wireless protocols. Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
Redpine Signals likewise identifies as a semiconductor leader in wireless and MCU products.
The startup, which opened its doors in 2001, claims the title of "first" for several strides in protocol implementation: the first to produce an ultra-low-power single-stream 802.11n chipset, the first to adopt self-contained 802.11a/b/g/n modules into the M2M market, and the first to launch multiprotocol wireless chipsets for IoT—including dual-band Wi-Fi, dual-mode BT 4.1, 802.11p, and 802.15.4/ZigBee capabilities.
Redpine Signals has produced some of the industry's smallest modules—4.63 mm x 7.90 mm—encompassing Wi-Fi, Dual Mode BT 5, and an MCU. Image used courtesy of Redpine Signals
Then, in 2018, Redpine Signals introduced products for 802.11n, dual-mode Bluetooth 5 (classic and LE), and 802.15.4 capable of running Thread or ZigBee. With such a track record of investments in wireless protocol innovation—and a growing interest in Wi-Fi 6—it's no surprise why Silicon Labs absorbed the niche semiconductor company.
Wi-Fi 6—Bigger Bandwidth, Little Changes to Design
Wi-Fi today suffers from a short operational spectrum that can often lead to deteriorated performance. In a move for improved connectivity, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced its Wi-Fi 6E standard for 6 GHz in January.
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, 6 GHz Wi-Fi addresses has seven additional 160 MHz channels and 14 additional 80 MHz channels available in contiguous spectrum blocks. Moving forward, these new channels will be necessary for high-bandwidth applications that will require faster data throughput and lower latency. These applications may include high-definition video streaming and VR/AR.
New Wi-Fi 6E devices will have access to wider channels to deliver superior network performance and support more Wi-Fi users at once. This will improve connectivity in congested city environments as well as in suburban living rooms occupied with gamers.
Once regulatory approval for Wi-Fi 6 for 6 GHz is secured, manufacturers will be able to market compatible devices. One reason for this is the almost ironic is that 6 GHz is proportionally close to 5 GHz, where designers have years of experience. So, even though the bandwidth new, at least some of it isn’t all that different.
Silicon Lab’s Roadmap for Wi-Fi 6
Silicon Labs has explicitly stated that its acquisition of Redpine Signals' Wi-Fi and Bluetooth business is a step in paving the road to Wi-Fi 6.
"The acquisition of Redpine Signals' ultra-low-power Wi-Fi and Bluetooth products and extensive intellectual property portfolio will expand our leadership in IoT wireless technology," said Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs.
"The addition of these products into our worldwide sales and distribution network will drive further momentum in the smart home, industrial IoT, and commercial markets for customers who want to get to market quickly with Wi-Fi enabled connected devices."
This acquisition is anticipated to boost Silicon Labs' IoT presence. Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) is a critical extension of Wi-Fi. Among other factors, it focuses on security and enabling operations at very low power—a major advantage in up-and-coming IoT devices. Silicon Labs specifically points to Redpine Signal’s Bluetooth Classic IP as a boon in preparing for Wi-Fi 6 in the IP's relation to audio applications including voice assistants, smart speakers, wearables, and hearables.
Although the two companies have somewhat similar portfolios, Redpine Signals fills in some of Silicon Labs' gaps. It's possible that Silicon Labs is pushing to catch up with other major semiconductors, like Intel, who are also making concerted efforts to prepare for connectivity developments like Wi-Fi 6 and 5G at the silicon level.