Silicon Laboratories (NASDAQ: SLAB) designs and develops analog-intensive, mixed-signal integrated circuits (mixed-signal ICs). These products are found in all types of electronic devices such as mobile phones, portable media players, and personal navigation devices. Growth the demand for faster devices and devices with more functions has benefited Silicon Labs because manufacturers like Samsung and Apple rely on the small niche of third part chip makers for chips.
Since 2007, the company has taken actions to focus on its mixed-signal IC business. As a result the company divested from its Aero® transceiver, AeroFONE™ single-chip phone, and power amplifier product lines, all of which previously accounted for about one-third of the company's entire revenue. In 2009, the company's mixed-signal IC business accounted for all of the company's revenue.
Integrated circuits are small, purpose-specific devices built from many smaller discreet components, usually transistors, and the layering and interconnects required to make the chip function. ICs are generally classified as digital (i.e., microprocessors) or analog (i.e., operational amplifiers). Silicon Labs produces mixed-signal ICs, which contain both digital and analog circuits on the same chip.
Mixed-signal ICs are often used to convert analog signals to digital signals so that digital devices can process them. For example, mixed-signal ICs are essential components for FM tuners in digital products such as media players, which have digital amplifiers. Any analog signal (such as an FM radio transmission, a light wave or a sound) can be digitized using a very basic analog-to-digital converter, and the smallest and most energy efficient of these would be in the form of mixed-signal ICs.
Mixed-signal ICs also enable technologies like power over Ethernet. The analog power "signal", in this case a 60 Hz, 120V AC current in the United States, is transmitted alongside a digital data signal (Ethernet) over the same wire. Mixed-signal ICs, such as the Si3400 Power over Ethernet Powered Device controller, are manufactured by Silicon Laboratories to enable this capability.
Mixed-signal ICs are more difficult to design and manufacture than analog-only or digital-only integrated circuits. For example, an efficient mixed-signal IC would have its digital and analog components share a common power supply. However, as one can imagine, analog and digital components have very different power needs and consumption characteristics that make this a non-trivial goal in chip design. Silicon Laboratories therefore has a strong niche in designing low-profile (small), power-efficient mixed-signal ICs.
The semiconductor industry consistently moves in cycles. This highly cyclical industry can be illustrated by rapid changes in technology, rapid obsolescence in products, and evolving technological standards. High fluctuations in the industry are directly connected to maturing products, new product introductions, and the general economic conditions at the time. For Silicon Labs this means periods of high downturns and high upturns .
Although Silicon Labs does not have to directly worry about credit problems, the true concern lies with its customers and distributors. As Silicon Labs does not have many customers and distributors, each of the companies holds a substantial portion of the Silicon Labs’ accounts receivable. Any of the Silicon Labs' customers (ex. Samsung or Motorola) getting into credit problems would damage sales and substantially hurt the company's revenue. Any of Silicon Labs' distributers (ex. Edom Technology or Uniquest) getting into credit problems would also hurt revenue as it would be harder to get the product into the market. If credit problems were to hit any of these companies, Silicon Labs would suffer tremendously .
Silicon Labs faces many competitors as the markets for semiconductors and mix-signal ICs are extremely competitive. An advantage that Silicon Labs has over its competitors is that its ICs are smaller in size and highly integrated, enabling the company to supply them on a rapid basis. A disadvantage however is that some customers need to redesign their products in order to incorporate the smaller ICs.  The company’s competitors include: