Why the new Ethernet standard will spur innovation in the connected car


What a difference a wire can make – or, a single, twisted wire pair. This is the case with the new IEEE 802.3bw™-2015 100BASE-T1 standard that supports 100 megabit per second (Mb/s) Ethernet operation over a single, balanced, twisted pair cable in the connected car.

My jest is appropriate, because this standard has immediate, practical implications for the connected car, as well as supporting a unified platform for the connected car’s future in the Internet of Things (IoT) and well beyond it.

The recent publication of IEEE 802.3bw-2015 will serve the automotive industry’s current and provide a pathway to future needs for an in-vehicle, homogenous network architecture and the data speeds to support advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment (streaming music, video, DVD and BluRay) applications and overall electrification of motorised vehicles.

This standard will contribute to reducing the number of wires in vehicular wiring harnesses and thus cut the cost and weight of a vehicle’s third-most expensive component. And IEEE 802.3bw -2015, because it is Ethernet, will enable the software platform of the future upon which to build applications and innovations for IoT-connected vehicles in ways we can’t yet imagine.

Industry ‘drivers’

I can support these bold statements by tracing the need for this advancement and pulling back the curtain on the myriad opportunities created by IEEE 802.3bw-2015 for connected car designers, automakers and application developers.

This new standard has been “driven,” (pun intended), by the global automotive industry and, it represents Ethernet’s expansion into new application areas. The mainstream adoption by automakers of complex in-vehicle applications such as Advanced Driver Assist (ADAS) and infotainment has created a need for cost-effective, high-bandwidth connectivity. The perennial pressure to reduce total vehicle weight figures in as well.

In 2012, the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group started IEEE P802.3bpbw™, 1000BASE-T1, Gigabit Ethernet over a single twisted wire pair. The OPEN Alliance, an automotive industry association, had a specification for 100 Mb/s operation over a single twisted wire pair (OABR). Members of the OPEN Alliance felt that having an IEEE standard that was compatible with OABR would be beneficial to the industry, and fit with IEEE P802.3bp 1000BASE-T1. Work started on IEEE P802.3bw 100BASE-T1 in early 2014 by using OABR as the basis. IEEE 802.3bw-2015 was approved in October of 2015.

Practical impacts

Copper wire has been used by the auto industry for over a century and a single balanced twisted pair cable uses the least amount of wire and therefore will have the lightest possible weight. One of its key attributes is that the single twisted pair wires provide intrinsic reduction of electromagnetic interference (EMI) and high immunity to external EMI. (Engines and ignition systems are a major source of EMI.) We call that ability to produce less and withstand more EMI electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), for which no unified standards exist within the global auto industry. Each automaker has its own standards so maximising EMC performance in the wiring is imperative.

(Plus, as you probably realise, vehicles are subject to brutal temperature swings, vibration, dust, corrosive fluids and other hazards. Simplifying the wiring harness reduces a vehicle’s vulnerability to these hazards. So IEEE 802.3bw-2015 has many positive, if less obvious, benefits.)  

Going to an Ethernet-based single twisted pair not only reduces the bill of materials and the labor needed to physically integrate a wiring harness, it reduces overall vehicle weight and, thus, improves a vehicle’s efficiency, gas mileage and emissions. Those are the physical ramifications of IEEE 802.3bw-2015. The beauty of this standard is that it answers those physical needs while enabling greater safety, driver awareness and … whatever the future brings.

Future applications

Now to the fun stuff – the applications.

IEEE 802.3bw’s 100 Mb/s data speeds reflect the ever-rising curve in the need for network speeds in cars. In the 1950s, it was likely that the only electronic component in a vehicle was an AM radio. Over the next few decades, more electronic systems, for example, cruise control and electronic fuel injection, found their way into vehicles. By the1980s, the industry had adopted the Controller Area Network (CAN) 1 Mb/s data bus for a burgeoning number of electronic systems. But network architecture remained somewhat fractured; it was often cobbled together as needed for various applications and data in one subsystem was unavailable to other subsystems. The advent of ADAS and advanced infotainment systems demanded a simpler, unified network architecture and much faster speeds, leading to the OPEN Alliance effort and IEEE 802.3bw-2015.

Think of our semi-autonomous vehicles with sensors for various safety applications and the intelligence needed to analyse the data and implement precautionary steps. Then imagine the driver-less, autonomous vehicles that may well arrive in the not-too-distant future.  

As you read this blog, automakers are hard at work designing and taking to market ADAS, infotainment and vehicle electrification applications that will make vehicles and their subsystems safer and simpler and more effective and efficient to monitor and control.

The road ahead

Looking ahead, true connected cars are forecast to reach market by 2020. The vehicle’s internal network will talk to the cloud and vice versa for applications such as telematics, diagnostics, infotainment, maintenance advisories, even the vehicle’s position and the conditions around it – not to mention, whatever beneficial data or forecasts the IoT may provide.

The need for faster networks is present in every industry, and cars are no exception. The IEEE P802.3bp 1000BASE-T1 Gigabit Ethernet Task Force, which I chair, work is expected to be completed in the next few months. This forthcoming standard accelerates Ethernet’s in-vehicle data speeds to 10 times that of the new IEEE 802.3bw. Another IEEE standard, IEEE P802.3bubw™1-Pair Power over Data Lines (PoDL) will provide power over the single twisted pair wires used in IEEE 802.3bw-2015 and IEEE P802.3bp. This provides maximum efficiency for the wiring harness as it now provides power and data over the same twisted wire pair. The IEEE 802.1bw™ Time Sensitive Networks/Audio Video Bridging family of standards will provide data traffic prioritisation to give safety sensors and commands precedence over, say, that streaming video the kids are watching in the back seat. If you’re building cars, IEEE 802bw™ has you covered.

As connected cars mature, the aggregate will drive further innovation in other fields. Ethernet’s use and further sophistication in its various flavors will move into aerospace and industrial automation applications. And as “smart” everything – cars, homes, cities – come online, that will create practically unimaginable demands on the network backbones and switches that serve the Internet, which will have to grow in capacity, throughput – you name it.       

In the proverbial big picture, the IEEE 802.3bw standard is a first step in a global market migration to an elegant, powerful, standards-based communication architecture that will help make connected cars safer, smarter, better. The high data rates enabled by the standard – speeds that will relatively soon be multiplied 10 times – will open the doors to innovation around the internal applications we’ve discussed, plus a veritable universe of external applications tied to the IoT.

Fasten your seat belts!

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