MADISON, Wis. -- Can the traditionally conservative automotive industry's fixation for penny-pinching and proprietary technology ever be flipped?
Broadcom Corp., which has invented an automotive technology known as BroadR-Reach Ethernet, definitely believes so. The leading networking chip company, although still a novice in the automotive market, thinks carmakers are coming around at last to the wisdom of leveraging standard technologies such as Ethernet -- already well proven outside the car market.
Indeed, when BMW rolls out its X5 SUV later this year, champagne corks will be popping at Broadcom. The German carmaker -- in partnership with Freescale Semiconductor, a licensee of Broadcom's BroadR-Reach Ethernet technology -- will become the first OEM to commercialize the Ethernet for a 360-degree camera parking assist system.
Hyundai Motor Company is also said to be using Broadcom's BroadR-Reach Ethernet technology to offer next-gen connected infotainment systems.
In a recent interview with EE Times, Ali Abaye, senior director of product marketing for Broadcom's Infrastructure and Networking Group, claimed, as the amount of electronics rapidly grows inside a car, "Carmakers have come to a collective conclusion" to embrace automotive Ethernet. "They don't want another proprietary technology," he added.
Abaye listed three reasons why automakers are unclenching.
First, carmakers today are "paying more attention to what electronics devices their customers are bringing into the car -- moreso than a car's horsepower." They need to make sure their cars can accommodate everything from a navigation system to displays and other gizmos consumers use inside a car. "And this is not just for a high-end car," said Abaye.
Second, there are many "islands of networks" inside a car today, he said. Each automotive network technology such as low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS), media-oriented systems transport (MOST), and the controller area network (CAN), is connected to different electronics. They don't interoperate. "That is adding to the bottom line for carmakers," Abaye said.
Third, carmakers need scalable solutions for in-car networking. The quality of camera technology used for lane changing, for example, is running at higher data rates. With the use of tablets and smartphones, consumers audio-visual quality expectations are intensifying. As cars get connected to the external world through WiFi, 3G, 4G, and LTE, the bandwidth needed for in-car networking grows exponentially. "For scalable, ubiquitous, reliable, and useful" in-car networking, Abaye said, carmakers are now increasingly looking to OPEN Alliance SIG, an open industry consortium designed to encourage wide-scale adoption of Ethernet-based networks as the standard in automotive networking applications.
The MOST auto connectivity spec is on the way out as new unshielded single twisted-pair cable arrives for automotive Ethernet (compare it with regular Ethernet cable on the left). This means auto makers can leverage the ubiquitous Ethernet standard while reducing the connectivity cost and cabling weight.
Debate on Ethernet backbone
Broadcom is convinced that the Ethernet will become the electronic backbone in cars. In Abaye's mind, the use of automotive Ethernet for such applications as infotainment and camera-assisted parking with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) is almost a given. Automotive Ethernet will challenge LVDS and MOST, Abaye said. "We will start seeing automotive Ethernet replacing CAN in eight to 10 years." Noting the different network islands that don't interoperate in cars today, Abaye said, "These islands do not need to exist."
Given the slow-moving nature of the automotive industry, though, how soon the automotive Ethernet will really infiltrate cars -- and in what volume -- remains a topic of heated debate. Opinions are sharply divided even among automotive industry analysts. Forecasts of the number of Ethernet nodes used by the automotive industry by 2020 range from 120 million to 300 million units.
On one end of the spectrum, Frost & Sullivan's Telematics and Infotainment program manager Praveen Chandrasekar told EE Times, "By 2020, there will be more than 100 to 120 Ethernet ports in a luxury car owing clearly to drivers' increasing use of cameras for advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), automated driving requiring high level sensor fusion and increasing infotainment content." Chandrasekar added, "On the other hand, more than 50 to 60 ports will be in a volume [mass-market] car because of similar reasons. This almost amounts to a total of 300 million Ethernet ports globally and the highest contributing markets will be North America and Europe."