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The Ethernet Law in Action: Automotive Industry Turns on to Ethernet

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The Ethernet Law in Action: Automotive Industry Turns on to Ethernet


August 22, 2012

By Joan Engebretson, Contributing Editor

TMCNet readers are most likely familiar with Metcalfe’s Law: the value of a network increases with the number of people connected to that network – or Moore’s Law, which addresses the exponentially growing power of computer processing. I’ve also observed another phenomenon that may deserve its own moniker. Let’s call it the Ethernet Law.

The principle behind it: The more ubiquitously a computer networking technology is deployed, the more attractive it becomes to users of alternative networking technologies who might never have considered Ethernet in the past.

The latest example of the Ethernet Law in action comes from the OPEN (News - Alert) Alliance Special Interest Group, a group of more than 70 automotive developers in the process of finalizing the BroadR-Reach standard that will deliver 100 Mbps Ethernet connectivity throughout a vehicle. The standard ultimately may supplant a range of lower-speed networking standards with names like CAN and FlexRay.

I was a bit surprised that there was no existing Ethernet standard suitable for in-vehicle use. But as Dave Estes, manager of Ethernet technologies for the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory, explained, the automotive industry wanted to use just a single twisted pair for communications, rather than the two twisted pair used in 100 Base T.

The BroadR-Reach standard was able to achieve that because its range is only 10 meters, rather than the 100-meter range of 100 Base T.

Estes is closely involved with BroadR-Reach because the UNH-IOL (News - Alert) has been enlisted to conduct testing on the new Ethernet networking standard.

The BroadR-Reach standard has broad support within the automotive industry, which hopes to leverage economies of scale already associated with Ethernet in developing equipment meeting the new standards, Estes said.

OPEN is actually an acronym for One-Pair-Ether-Net.

The automotive industry has some lofty goals for BroadR-Reach. Among the applications the technology aims to support are on-board diagnostics, advanced navigation, entertainment and voice-recognition, as well as safety features such as 360-degree surround view parking assistance, rear-view cameras and collision avoidance systems.

BroadR-Reach also aims to reduce connectivity costs by as much as 80 percent using the same connectors and cables used by other networking technology in cars. In addition, the technology is expected to reduce cabling weight by as much as 30 percent, helping to increase the vehicle’s fuel economy and enhance performance, Estes said.

Although BroadR-Reach is focused solely on networking within an individual vehicle, it’s easy to see how it could drive demand for bandwidth to and from the vehicle. Estes noted, for example, that as entertainment systems become more advanced, vehicle owners will want to acquire new data, requiring faster external communications. And as diagnostic capabilities become more sophisticated, it’s logical that vehicles increasingly will call out to report problems or maintenance issues.

Meanwhile, the automotive industry is already thinking about the next generation of in-vehicle networking, which it is calling RTPGE, for reduced twisted pair gigabit Ethernet, which would boost in-vehicle network data rates to a gigabit – and Estes believes that standard may have broader applications beyond the automotive industry.

“It could help other industries that are looking to save on cabling,” he said.

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Edited by Braden Becker

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