broadr Broadcom talks in car networking

One big growth area for computing these days is the automotive industry and we're not talking about things like the engine management system here, but rather about things like navigation, entertainment and something known as ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). One problem that has cropped up is that it's getting costly to implement all of these solutions as they all have their own interconnect systems, something Broadcom wants to help with.

One big growth area for computing these days is the automotive industry and we're not talking about things like the engine management system here, but rather about things like navigation, entertainment and something known as ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems). One problem that has cropped up is that it's getting costly to implement all of these solutions as they all have their own interconnect systems, something Broadcom wants to help with.

Broadcom has started a special interest group known as the OPEN (One Pair Ether-Net) alliance which is focusing on developing products built on Broadcom's BroadR-Reach technology. In the case of the automotive industry we're talking about 100Mbps Ethernet over a single twisted pair of FlexRay cables. For those not familiar with FlexRay cabling, it looks not that dissimilar to a pair of wires from a standard Ethernet cable, albeit slightly thicker, we'd say about the thickness of the kind of wires used to connect a computer cooling fan to the motherboard.

broadr Broadcom talks in car networking

FlexRay cables have so far only supported fairly low-speed implementations up to about 20Mbps, not remotely fast enough for today's needs. Combining this type of low-cost cabling with its BroadR-Reach technology and a new Ethernet PHY, Broadcom has managed to create a solution where it's possible to run 100Mbps Ethernet over FlexRay cabling. Broadcom was making a big deal out of the 80 percent cost saving and 30 percent  weight reduction when using FlexRay cabling compared to LVDS cabling which is commonly used for various applications inside cars thanks to the LVDS cablings low emissions and EMI resistance.

broadr 3 Broadcom talks in car networking

FlexRay cabling on the left, LVDS on the right

Combining its BroadR-Reach technology with FlexRay allows Broadcom to offer a much more flexible solution with the same low emissions and EMI resistance as LVDS cables, although what the company sort of neglected to mention during the presentation was the cost of its transceivers and switches which are needed to implement this technology. That said, it's not free to implement LVDS technology either and this too requires additional chips and far more costly connectors on both ends.

Broadcom is offering a single-port 100Mbps transceiver and three different switch solutions today, as well as a transceiver used for diagnostics that allows external equipment to be attached at Gigabit speed. The trick here is that the OPEN alliance consists of a wide range  of companies, including a few other chip makers, several car manufacturers and in-car entertainment product makers to mention a few. As such Broadcom isn't the only company making compatible solutions and the idea of it all is for this technology to become the dominant in-vehicle networking standard.

broadr 2 Broadcom talks in car networking

Long term Broadcom is hoping that its technology will replace most; if not all the various systems used in cars to allow for an overall simplified network topology. In as much as it has been designed for use in cars, it can also be used in other types of vehicles, such as busses for example, as cable lengths of up to about 50m are supported. In as much as we're all for standardisation, we can't but feel a little bit worried about cars ending up with a single network for all of its various computer systems, as when something goes wrong with the network, then what? Broadcom did mention that link aggregation is supported to either help boost the performance beyond 100Mbps, or for the purpose of failover.

broadr 1 Broadcom talks in car networking

Although no live demo was shown, Broadcom did bring along a typical in-vehicle camera module used for example as a rear view camera for when you're reversing. The entire module was tiny and featured a mere three IC's – not counting the power regulation components – of which the one you can see in the picture is Broadcom's BCM89810 Ethernet transceiver which is also pictured below the camera alongside one of the switches.

broadr 4 Broadcom talks in car networking

For more details about the OPEN alliance we suggest you head over to its website where you can find out more details about its members and where you might be finding this technology. Implementations in cars aren't expected until later this year with BMW allegedly being one of the first out the door. The OPEN alliance is also working on a next generation standard and is hoping to be able to reach speeds of 1Gbps over the same type of cabling. You can also find more details on Broadcom's product page.