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Where Are We on the Road to Ubiquitous Automotive Ethernet

Kirsten Matheus, 2020 Ethernet & IP @ Automotive Technology Week Steering Committee Chair
Daniel Hopf, 2020 Ethernet & IP @ Automotive Technology Week Steering Committee Vice Chair 

There are varied but clear signs of progress toward ubiquitous Automotive Ethernet. For example, there were more presentations with a system view at the 2020 IEEE Standards Association Ethernet & IP @ Automotive Technology Day (EIP@ATD) than in previous years. The global automotive industry is clearly contemplating its path forward for the standardized in-vehicle network (IVN) foundation, and IEEE 802.3™ Ethernet and P802.1DG™is vital to the conversation.

There are crucial steps yet to be taken. It’s time to intensify discussion of how to fully leverage the advantages of Ethernet across the vehicle, and the 14/15 September 2021 EIP@ATD is an ideal venue to advance that conversation.

Global Engagement, Milestone Standards

Where are we at right now on the Ethernet/IVN journey? Significant innovation has taken place in terms of standards and technology development. The cast of organizations building on those standards is deep and wide around the world, and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are increasingly reliant on the technologies.

For example, all major OEMs will have introduced the 100BASE-T1 specification for transmitting a data rate of 100 Megabits per second (Mb/s) over unshielded cabling in series production cars by the end of 2020. That is a milestone. 100BASE-T1’s introduction in series production cars dates back to 2013, and the technology was standardized in IEEE 802.3bw™, IEEE Standard for Ethernet Amendment 1: Physical Layer Specifications and Management Parameters for 100 Mb/s Operation over a Single Balanced Twisted Pair Cable (100BASE-T1), which was published in 2015. Next-generation 1 Gigabit per second (Gb/s) technologies also are on the streets; 1000BASE-T1 (defined in 2016 in IEEE 802.3bp™, IEEE Standard for Ethernet Amendment 4: Physical Layer Specifications and Management Parameters for 1 Gb/s Operation over a Single Twisted-Pair Copper Cable) and 1000BASE-RH (defined in 2017 in IEEE 802.3bv™, IEEE Standard for Ethernet Amendment 9: Physical Layer Specifications and Management Parameters for 1000 Mb/s Operation Over Plastic Optical Fiber) saw their first start of production (SOP) activities in 2019.

Around this, standards and technology development has taken root in an entire ecosystem of organizations beyond IEEE which are supporting industrialization of Automotive Ethernet in various ways. The OPEN Alliance, the Avnu Alliance, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) began work in Automotive Ethernet as early as 2011.

This sounds like a clear success story so far, but we also see signs of overheating, fatigue, or maybe realism creeping into the picture, too. It is time for the global automotive industry to take a step back and take stock. What are the challenges to the ubiquitous success of Automotive Ethernet in the years ahead?

Obstacles to Be Overcome

There is a lot happening all at once with regard to in-vehicle networking (IVN). Several new standardized speeds are appearing in IEEE: 10 Mb/s in IEEE 802.3cg™ and 2.5/5/10 Gb/s in IEEE 802.3ch™ were published in 2019 and 2020, respectively, and work is underway to standardize greater than 10 Gb/s (IEEE P802.3cy™ and IEEE P802.3cz™). Also, new physical layer (PHY) technologies are coming faster at OEMs than they can be industrialized and integrated. Amid all of the activities, complex questions are stymying the overwhelmed global automotive industry:

  • How do we sort out the competition among communication technologies? While 100 Mb/s and 1,000 Mb/s Ethernet addressed definitive speed gaps for IVN technology, the new speed grades in Automotive Ethernet face more competition in both lower- (such as FlexRay, various CAN variants, and A2B audio bus) and higher-speed areas (such as SerDes serializer-deserializer, USB, and PCIe). The specialized technologies have an advantage in the beginning, in that they are tailored for specific use cases and cost-optimized for those. But technologies conceived for a single use case can grow monolithic, tedious, and expensive when applied to other uses. Also, globally standardized technologies such as Ethernet tend to be augmented by a qualification ecosystem (test houses, vendors, intelligent tools, training, etc.) and a diversified product portfolio, which is so important to OEMs in areas such as risk mitigation.
  • How do we best leverage all of Ethernet’s sophisticated capabilities and communications principles in combination with one another?—Ethernet has presented not only a new PHY for the automotive industry but also unfamiliar concepts (re-using existing protocols for different applications, for example) and fundamentally different communication paradigms to the industry. What will be required for these to be leveraged in the most efficient manner and to maximum advantage, in areas such as efficient data packaging, architectural changes, protocols, and service orientation vs. signal orientation? The biggest long-term benefits in using Ethernet reside in combining all of its capabilities and principles efficiently and in coordinated fashion. Yes, Ethernet does demand new learning and experience for the automotive industry, but the opportunities arising from understanding and efficiently using Ethernet and the protocols on top of the PHY outweigh those initial efforts in the long run.
  • Is the need for networking in the vehicle of the future minimized by electrical and electronic (E/E) architecture concepts? Automobile manufacturers are gravitating toward zonal architectural concepts in which a vehicle’s (perhaps redundant) central computing units are attached to peripherals. Only a few high-performance electronic control units (ECUs) or high-performance computers (HPCs) are required to be interconnected at low latency and high bandwidth in this scenario; sensors and actuators are aggregated in physical zones at specific ECUs. As the trend gains traction, one impact could be less wires for networking in tomorrow’s automobiles. The industry must account for this shift in the underlying E/E architecture in making IVN choices.

Eliminating Fragmentation, Moving Forward Together

Now is the time for decision makers from across the global automotive industry to resist industry fragmentation and tackle the hard questions together. Concentrating effort on exploring what Ethernet offers at all layers of the software and protocol stack and learning how to most efficiently leverage the technologies available today promise the most advantageous path forward for all. We have only scratched the surface of the true potential of Automotive Ethernet.

This is a topic that is certain to be visited again and again in the months ahead—the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) Ethernet & IP @ Automotive Technology Day (scheduled for 14-15 September 2021 in Munich) being one prime upcoming opportunity. Join our mailing list to stay updated on the event and related activities, and let’s continue the conversation.

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Guest Contributor

The IEEE Standards Association (IEEE SA) is a leading consensus building organization that nurtures, develops, and advances global technologies. Providing a neutral and open platform to empower innovators across borders and disciplines, IEEE SA facilitates standards development and standards related solutions, such as technology incubation, alliance consortia formation, open source, etc. With collaborative thought leaders in more than 160 countries, we enable the collaborative exploration of emerging technologies, the identification of existing challenges and opportunities, and the development of recommendations, solutions, and technology standards that solve market-relevant problems. Collectively, we are raising the standards that benefit industry and humanity; making technology better, safer, and sustainable for the future.

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