Dialog Semiconductor to Step up IoT Connectivity Efforts with Silicon Motion Acquisition

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By Andrew Zignani | 2Q 2019 | IN-5448

Dialog Semiconductor, provider of power management, power conversion, charging, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions, recently announced that it is set to acquire Silicon Motion’s mobile communications product line, known as FCI. Silicon Motion’s FCI product line includes mobile TV SoCs, 2G/3G/4G transceiver ICs, and more recently added ultra-low-power Wi-Fi System on Chips (SoCs) to its portfolio. The move will cost Dialog USD$45 million in cash and is expected to be completed later in 2019, subject to regulatory approval.

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Dialog Semiconductor to Acquire Silicon Motion's Mobile Communications Business


Dialog Semiconductor, provider of power management, power conversion, charging, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions, recently announced that it is set to acquire Silicon Motion’s mobile communications product line, known as FCI. Silicon Motion’s FCI product line includes mobile TV SoCs, 2G/3G/4G transceiver ICs, and more recently added ultra-low-power Wi-Fi System on Chips (SoCs) to its portfolio. The move will cost Dialog USD$45 million in cash and is expected to be completed later in 2019, subject to regulatory approval.

Low-Power Wi-Fi to Complement Bluetooth Low Energy Portfolio


To date, Dialog has shipped more than 250 million units of Bluetooth Low Energy SoC’s into Internet of Things (IoT) applications. With the acquisition of Silicon Motion, Dialog gains access to a new portfolio of ultra-low-power Wi-Fi SoCs and modules to complement these existing IoT solutions. Silicon Motion’s FC9000 is an ultra-low-power 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi SoC specifically designed for battery-powered IoT applications. The chipset leverages Silicon Motion’s VirtualZero™ technology, which shuts down chip components when not in use, enabling near zero levels of power consumption when the chip is not actively sending or receiving data. Algorithms enable the chipset to remain asleep until the precise moment it is required to wake up, enabling a year or more of battery life depending on the application. Production of the chipset, along with a range of modules, began ramping up in Q4 2018, achieving full Wi-Fi certification and passing all interoperability tests with a wide range of routers. Several existing customers have already integrated either the SoC or modules into their products.

The move follows other acquisitions designed to diversify Dialog’s product offering and reduce its dependence on the smartphone market and Apple in particular. In 2018, around 75% of Dialog’s revenue came from supplying power management Integrated Circuits (ICs) to Apple. In October 2017, the company acquired mixed-signal IC leader Silego Technology for US$276 million to help build its presence in IoT, computing, and automotive markets. In October 2018, Dialog Semiconductor announced an US$300 million agreement with Apple to license some of its power management technologies while transferring assets and 300 employees to Apple for development in-house. The move provided Dialog time to diversify its portfolio, which has been seeking to acquire companies to help them achieve this since then.

The move will also enable Dialog to provide integrated Bluetooth and Wi-Fi combo ICs to the market, further diversifying its connectivity portfolio. CEO Jalal Bagherli noted in the announcement of the acquisition that “Ultra-Low-Power Wi-Fi is a strong strategic fit for Dialog with the opportunity to combine Wi-Fi and BLE chips and modules selling into our complementary IoT, consumer, and automotive markets,” and that optimized combo solutions are firmly on the roadmap.

The market for low-power Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth combo ICs has ramped up considerably over the last few years in attempts to better target battery-powered IoT applications. Solution providers including Silicon Labs, Silicon Motion, Redpine Signals, Telit, Cypress, TI, Espressif Systems, Qualcomm, MediaTek, and InnoPhase, among others, are all heavily targeting this space.

Last year, Silicon Labs unveiled a new 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi transceiver (WF200) and module (WFM200) specifically aimed at targeting low-power IoT applications. These can support support a low transmit (TX: 138 mA) and receive power (RX: 48 mA), delivering an average power consumption of just 200 µA. The company claims that these solutions can cut power consumption in half when compared to the competition. These products are also claimed to provide additional security enhancements, in addition to better coexistence in 2.4GHz environments through increased blocking of neighboring networks. According to internal benchmarks, in crowded environments where other chipsets’ throughput drops to zero, these solutions can maintain a reliable throughput.

In February 2019, Redpine Signals announced the results of a test report that demonstrated its RS9916 and RS14100 multi-protocol Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth combo solutions delivered up to 25x lower power in Wi-Fi standby mode compared to competing solutions from Cypress, Qualcomm, and TI, projecting three year battery life for smart locks and other IoT devices.

On February 13, 2019, InnoPhase announced the Talaria TWO Platform, a multi-protocol single chip solution supporting both 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 5. The solution is currently being sampled by key customers, and full commercial availability and certification is anticipated for the middle of 2019. InnoPhase’s main innovations are its digital polar transceiver, which replaces traditional analog-based radios that level Cartesian coordinates; a flexible Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA); and a digital power amplifier. According to InnoPhase, compared to traditional Wi-Fi solutions on the market, their solution can result in battery powered devices lasting between 2 and 8 times longer.

Dialog’s move will attract Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) that want to take advantage of the ubiquity of Wi-Fi networks and the higher data rates of Wi-Fi versus competing technologies but are reluctant to adopt the technology due to power consumption concerns. These new solutions will enable Dialog to better target several end markets, including home automation, wearables, commercial and retail, security, and consumer healthcare, encompassing a range of end devices including home security systems, Internet Protocol (IP) cameras, doorbells and smart locks, thermostats, smart watches, Point of Sale (POS) terminals, healthcare devices, lighting, door/window sensors, home appliances, sprinkler systems, industrial sensors, and many others.

Innovations and Opportunities for Low-Power Wi-Fi


While the majority of mainstream Wi-Fi traffic has shifted toward the 5GHz band with 802.11ac, 2.4GHz 802.11n has seen a resurgence in markets that require basic Wi-Fi connectivity and lower cost solutions for IoT applications. ABI Research expects 2.4GHz 802.11n to remain relevant for some time to come, with strong growth in home security and automation environments, wearables, and healthcare, among others. Innovations in 802.11n, in addition to other Wi-Fi technologies, can all help Wi-Fi better target IoT applications in the future.

802.11n is not the only Wi-Fi technology that has targeted low-power IoT applications. Some Wi-Fi chipset vendors are also beginning to promote new enhancements in the 2.4GHz band to be included in the upcoming 802.11ax protocol. These will also enable 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to better target IoT applications in the future. For example, 802.11ax will support Target Wake Time (TWT), reducing the amount of time devices need to wake up by negotiating and defining specific times for a station to access the medium. This will allow the station to sleep for longer periods of time, reduce power consumption, and help to reduce overlaps between different stations trying to access the medium. 802.11ax will also support 2MHz channels, several of which can be left blank. This will improve coexistence with other 2.4GHz IoT radio technologies, such as Bluetooth or 802.15.4. These 2MHz channels can also enable much simpler client design with support for lower data rates and longer battery life. Support for Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiple Access (OFDMA) will also divide the radio channel into multiple smaller sub-channels, each with slightly different frequencies. These narrower channels are then used to transmit data to multiple users at the same time. This will help to reduce frequency fading and interference, resulting in increased throughput and more efficient use of the spectrum. IP providers such as CEVA are already promoting low-power features of 802.11ax through their RivieraWaves RX-AX Low Power platform, a 20MHz solution for small, low power IoT devices and wearables, as a replacement to 802.11n.

802.11ah, also known as Wi-Fi HaLow or Sub-1GHz Wi-Fi, is another technology designed to better support Wi-Fi in the IoT and offers a number of considerable technical advantages over alternative technologies, including lower power consumption, longer range, support for more nodes, variable and higher data rates (150kbps up to 78Mbps per spatial stream), reduced interference, and single hop connectivity. The standard was ratified in 2016, but since then, has received very little attention from chipset designers and OEMs alike, and the technology has yet to have a product arrive to the market. As ABI Research argued before the standard arrived, despite the inherent advantages of the technology, HaLow faces a difficult challenge in creating a new sub-1GHz Wi-Fi ecosystem.

ABI Research expects 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to continue to carve out success in various applications including smart home, wearables, and IoT deployments over the next 5-10 years, taking advantage of its higher throughput and ubiquitous network infrastructure compared to competing SRW technologies. Innovative low-power Wi-Fi chipsets can enable longer lifespans for battery-powered products, or allow certain devices to be deployed more flexibly, and without the need for mains power. Looking further ahead, chipset suppliers should also investigate the opportunities that 802.11n or 802.11ax can open when combined with the upcoming 802.11ba (Wake-up Radio) enhancement for further reduced power consumption in emerging IoT device types.                                                                                       

Dialog’s acquisition of Silicon Motion means it is well placed to take advantage of these Wi-Fi opportunities in the coming years. In addition, Dialog is also well placed to take advantage of BLE’s tripling in market size by 2023, as anticipated by ABI Research’s latest Wireless Connectivity Technology Segmentation & Addressable Markets (MD-WCMT-179) market data. Bluetooth Low Energy’s ubiquitous support in mobile devices, combined with its ability to support mesh networking, beacon functionality, and, most recently, centimeter-level location accuracy with the introduction of Bluetooth 5.1 and Radio Direction Finding (RDF), is enabling BLE to be increasingly leveraged within smart consumer devices and IoT applications. From 2020 onward, Bluetooth is also anticipated to enable high quality audio streaming over BLE, providing a boost for the existing headset and emerging true wireless audio device market. Late last year, and more recently during CES 2019, Dialog Semiconductor demonstrated an audio over BLE Proof of Concept (PoC) utilizing their SmartBond SoCs. From 2020 onwards, we expect the Bluetooth audio market to take advantage of upcoming enhancements to better support truly cable free earbud experiences while enhancing the battery life and user experience of these devices, though it may take some time for the standardization process to equate to mobile and wider ecosystem support.