MADISON, Wis. — NXP Semiconductors announced Wednesday, Sept. 18, that it has signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly develop automotive Ethernet switch solutions with TTTech Computertechnik AG, a Vienna-based developer of networking solutions.
With the Ethernet now invading cars (industry experts' opinions, however, vary as to the speed of its adoption), "the next logical thing" for the auto industry to look for is an automotive Ethernet switch chip, according to NXP Semiconductors N.V. "When two or three Ethernet branches need to be connected [inside a car], you need a switch to coordinate them" says Toni Versluijs, vice president and general manager, In-Vehicle Networking Product Line, NXP Semiconductors.
Under the agreement, TTTech will provide its automotive Ethernet switch IP, while NXP implements the IP into Ethernet switch solutions with integrated PHY.
NXP has been developing "automotive-grade" Ethernet PHY. "Its performance is robust enough to meet the stringent ESD and EMC requirements imposed by automakers," Versluijs told us. While a lot of companies are making consumer-grade Ethernet switches, "which are almost commodities these days," notes Versluijs, "this, I believe, will be the first automotive Ethernet switch chip."
NXP expects its sample to be out in 2014, with the final product available in 2015.
Unified Ethernet networks
The jointly developed switch chip will enable applications with unshielded twisted pair cabling with BroadR-Reach PHY technology -- originally developed by Broadcom.
According to NXP, this will become the first Ethernet switch chip with three incorporated traffic classes. They include standard Ethernet traffic for diagnostics and ECU flashing, asynchronous rate-constrained traffic for audio/video streaming and sensor fusion, and synchronous traffic for hard real-time control and fail-operational systems.
In essence, the new automotive switch chip will enable unified Ethernet networks and the convergence of critical and non-critical application data streams on one network, NXP claimed.
Modular Ethernet solutions
TTTech is experienced in developing "modular" Ethernet solutions for vertical markets -- such as the aerospace and energy fields -- that demand real-time solutions, high reliability, and even triple redundancy requirements. But this is the first time the company is offering an "automotive Ethernet switch IP." Supported in the logic inside the automotive Ethernet switch IP are IEEE Audio Video Bridging (AVB) specifications, to help carry high-speed data traffic, and real-time quality of service within the automobile.
Asked if the agreement with NXP is exclusive, Markus Plankensteiner, director of sales and marketing industrial for TTTech, said only that the company's focus at the moment is solely on the development of the NXP automotive Ethernet switch chip.
Plankensteiner expressed hope that demand for the company's automotive Ethernet will enhance the value of TTTech's know-how in this area, especially as the auto industry gravitates toward more safety features and strives to perfect the autonomous-driving cars that will require more bandwidth and higher reliability.
Ian Riches, director of global automotive practice at Strategy Analytics, pegs the potential automotive Ethernet market to be around 120 million sockets a year by 2020
. Noting that the "automotive industry tends to do evolution not revolution," Riches cautiously predicts that the automotive Ethernet will grow "relatively slowly initially," then accelerate later.
Prospects for volume deployment of automotive Ethernet depend on the proliferation of cameras and diagnostics inside cars. Riches also believes that strong growth from so-called "infotainment" applications is expected to kick in shortly.
In comparing automotive Ethernet with other network technologies used in cars today, Riches told us, "Strategy Analytics does not see Ethernet replacing FlexRay, but it could well replace MOST" -- Media Oriented Systems Transport, a high-speed multimedia network technology optimized by the automotive industry.