Silicon Labs CEO on the future of IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT), a cohesive network of physical objects equipped with sensors, software, and other technologies to facilitate online communication with other devices and systems, is becoming increasingly significant in the digital realm. In a recent interview with TechCircle, Matt Johnson, CEO of Silicon Labs—a global manufacturer of silicon, software, and solutions for the connected world—discusses the driving forces behind the technology in the enterprise sector, the main challenges CIOs encounter when implementing IoT, and how India plays a crucial role in Silicon Labs’ growth strategy.

Q: What are the key technologies and sectors currently fuelling the growth of the IoT?

A: The rapid advancement of IoT technology has significantly impacted our world, benefiting both consumers and industries. The IoT industry has made remarkable progress in scalability, interoperability, and security, presenting a tremendous opportunity for positive change. In India, the IoT landscape is thriving, particularly in the tech industry, with the development of low-power microcontrollers and networking solutions. To address connectivity challenges, Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWAN) are gaining popularity, enabling long-range data transmission even in remote areas. IoT technology is also being applied in industrial automation, allowing for proactive maintenance to prevent equipment failures. Additionally, the integration of IoT into city operations is driving growth in the industrial and commercial sectors, enhancing city functions and improving efficiency.

Q: What are the main challenges that companies encounter when adopting and implementing IoT solutions?

A: The number of IoT-connected devices globally continues to grow. It’s incredible to realise how we used to talk about billions of units per year, and now we’re scaling to tens of billions. Looking forward 5-10 years, we might see around 100-plus billion units per year. This scale in semiconductors is unprecedented, embedding connectivity into our daily lives and opening doors to many innovations and conveniences.

In India, a massive market for IoT, several significant challenges need addressing to accelerate adoption. Firstly, there’s security. The interconnected nature of IoT devices makes securing them challenging but mission-critical. Our products have advanced security features to address escalating IoT threats, validated through third-party certification. As IoT deployments expand, scalable infrastructure and solutions are needed to accommodate growing device numbers and data volumes. Various countries have nuanced regulatory compliance schemes, adding complexity, especially for data privacy and security. In India, cost considerations, including initial deployment and ongoing maintenance expenses, can be barriers to adoption, requiring an understanding of return on investment. For instance, according to the World Bank, public lighting can constitute up to 65% of a city’s electricity costs and 10% of its overall budget. Investing in IoT infrastructure can drive efficiencies, reduce overall budgets, and create safer, more sustainable cities.

Q: How do Silicon Labs and similar companies address these challenges to facilitate IoT adoption and deployment?

A: One of IoT’s successes relies on connectivity regardless of device location. We provide low-power, wide-area networking solutions for remote deployments with unreliable internet access and collaborate with telecom providers and infrastructure companies to strengthen the national internet backbone. Advancements in renewable energy and microgrids enhance power supply in isolated areas. We prioritise workforce skills development with tools and training programmes. Our affordable microcontrollers and development tools make IoT adoption accessible for businesses of all sizes.

Q: Could you provide examples of recent collaborations between Silicon Labs and industry or academia that have contributed to the widespread adoption of IoT and AI?

A: Silicon Labs has played a key role in advancing IoT and AI adoption through collaborations with industry and academia. A notable partnership is with IIIT-H in India, where we launched India’s first campus-wide Wi-SUN network at the IIIT-H Smart City Living Lab in 2022, enabling remote monitoring and control of campus street lamps. This network provides students and researchers with hands-on experience in developing smart city solutions. We also support STEM education initiatives like Code2College to inspire innovation in the IoT and AI fields.

Q: What kind of innovation is Silicon Labs bringing to India? Can you share some insights on the size of Silicon Labs’ India team and how much the country contributes to the global market?

A: In India, our key focus areas include ongoing digital transformation initiatives, with smart metering being a notable sector within the IoT landscape. The country aims to replace 250 million traditional electricity meters with smart meters by 2026 to tackle revenue loss and enhance supply infrastructure. Silicon Labs and Wirepas are collaborating to provide a comprehensive Advanced Metering Infrastructure solution. We are also collaborating with CyanConnode to integrate our wireless SoC into their Omnimesh product line to meet India’s smart meter standards. We are investing in research and development to drive IoT ecosystem growth in India, with our India R&D centre focusing on developing ultra-low power wireless products. Our wireless development hub in Hyderabad showcases our commitment to nurturing engineering talent, and we are transitioning our IT operations to India. Our new CIO, Radhika Chennakeshavula, based in Hyderabad, is leading our digital transformation journey.

Q: In 2022, you said you’re tripling headcount in India by 2025. How are you working towards achieving this goal?

A: Silicon Labs is focused on promoting innovation and developing a skilled workforce in the Indian market. Through strong partnerships and addressing evolving needs, we are committed to expanding our operations and recruitment efforts. In 2022, we announced plans to triple our headcount in India within three years. We have collaborated with institutions like IIIT-H, IIT-Hyderabad, IIT-Delhi, Shiv Nadar University, and others, and are working with engineering institutions to prepare talent for careers in electronics and automation through our Centres of Innovation in IoT. Our workforce in India currently exceeds 600 employees, with hiring expanding at a rate of over 15%. We believe in India’s potential to make significant contributions to the IoT industry and new technologies.

Q: What is the future outlook for IoT, and what steps is Silicon Labs taking to advance it to the next level?

A: The demand for IoT technology is set to grow exponentially in the coming years. Despite a recent industry downturn due to the pandemic, we are seeing positive signs of improvement and are well-positioned for future growth. The potential for integrating IoT into various aspects of human life is vast, from healthcare to farming and more. As a company, we are excited to be part of an industry that enhances people’s lives and positively impacts the economy and environment. What motivates me every morning is knowing that we are well-positioned to lead in this global transformation.

CyanConnode Holdings plc (LON:CYAN) is a world leader in the design and development of Narrowband RF mesh networks that enable Omni Internet of Things (IoT) communications. 

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