Tomorrow's in-vehicle networking

  • 18-Nov-2011 08:35 EST

Harald Schoepp, Vice President-Marketing of the Automotive Information Systems Division at SMSC, wrote this article for AEI's 100th anniversary. He is a founding member of the MOST Cooperation and representative of SMSC in the Steering Committee.

When it comes to automotive multimedia technology, today's carmakers can be divided into two categories: the high-end brands, which have driven the adoption of the Media Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) standard from the start, and the expanding group of followers who focus on the mass market.

The high-end OEMs keep driving infotainment technology to the next level, including the integration of off-board services or the migration of the infotainment and driver-assistance world. On the other hand, the group of followers is facing the need to keep pace with the digital world, offering networked applications. For them, it is very important to bet on a technology that is proven and shipping in high volume, offering state-of-the-art performance and low price at a minimum risk—but at the same time a solution that is future proof, driven by the high-end brands.

Applications and requirements

For premium car makers, in-vehicle infotainment is about to saturate in terms of new and useful functions and features. Upcoming hot topics are connectivity outside the car and IP-based applications that make extensive use of the Ethernet Packet channel MEP (maintenance end point). Bandwidth requirements will be driven by fast software updating and fast media access to onboard mass storage devices such as HDD/SSD (hard disk drive/solid state drive), portable consumer devices attached via USB, and car-to-x applications connected via WLAN (wireless local area network) or LTE (long term evolution) technology. In addition, upcoming driver assist systems need an appropriate network technology.

Besides all technical discussions, the economic implications will play a major role. Using an established technology for drive-assist networking has the clear advantage that—from the very beginning—future applications can benefit from and share in the volume generated by the infotainment market.

Technology roadmap

It has always been a particular strength of the MOST multimedia network standard that the development is driven by a cooperative of carmakers and suppliers, collecting the real market requirements of a broad community instead of only going for the highest bit rates possible. Technically, a speed grade in the range of up to 5 Gbit/s has been examined already. But the crucial questions being investigated are: What does the market really need? Why would people transport data at such high speed, and which data will be transported at all?

Today, some boundary conditions are obvious already; the bit rate for a next generation will be beyond 1 Gbit/s and both the optical and electrical physical layers will be available. Also, the infotainment backbone will stay a synchronous network with the ability to seamlessly transport IP packet data.

Market outlook

It is absolutely critical for any new technology to cross the chasm between being a niche technology and becoming a widely accepted standard. To reach reasonable volumes, repeated attempts have been made to import technologies from the consumer world into the car, and thus trying to gain the respective scaling effects—the most recent examples being USB and ethernet technology. However, looking closer, this approach is rather unviable. Technologies need to be optimized for the harsh environment (temperature, EMC, and other parameters) in the car.

The conclusion is that automotive-specific developments are required, leading to optimized in-car solutions such as CAN, FlexRay, and MOST. Having been on the market since 2001, MOST has crossed the chasm with implementation in 10-15% of all passenger vehicles. The latest generation has already been adopted by Volkswagen/Audi, Daimler, and other car makers. The volume curve will rise more steeply from 2013/14 onward, when the rollouts to high-volume models will start.

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