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Broadcom rolls automotive-grade Ethernet, NFC chips

Posted: 07 Jan 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Broadcom  Ethernet  NFC  automotive  connected car 

Broadcom Corp. has recently announced a couple of devices geared for automotive applications. The auto-grade chips that include an Ethernet physical layer transceiver IC and a near field communication (NFC) chip are offered by the company as solutions to advance the development of connected cars.

Although Broadcom has been in the auto market since its Bluetooth chips got designed into cars in 2006, the Irvine company has accelerated efforts to carve out a presence in the automotive industry by applying its expertise in Ethernet and wireless technologies.

Broadcom's BroadR-Reach technology is an Ethernet physical layer standard designed for automotive connectivity applications. The company has rolled out its next-generation BroadR-Reach Ethernet chip, designed for low-power automotive applications.

The company is also introducing an automotive-grade NFC chip. Its "tap-to-connect" technology is designed to simplify the process of setting up mobile devices in cars. Broadcom believes that NFC is increasingly relevant inside cars, now that it is found in leading smartphones by both Samsung and Apple.


Broadcom's auto-grade NFC chip offers tap-to-connect technology (Source: Broadcom)

The two products aren't simply point products for Broadcom to move into cars. Ali Abaye, Broadcom's senior director responsible for automotive, said, "Automotive is the next focus for Broadcom R&D."

Fuelling Broadcom's interest in the automotive market is the industry-wide high expectations for the rapid growth of "connected cars."

Quoting data from GSMA and Navigant Research, Broadcom noted that by 2025, 100 per cent of new cars will be connected. More important, according to Abaye, Broadcom believes that "70 per cent of generation Y (born during the 1980's and early 1990's) are demanding connectivity" in cars for "infotainment, and telematics and other measures that make safety safer."

Automotive Ethernet: Apps beyond Infotainment

The Ethernet, which grew up in the IT network/enterprise environment, is increasingly present in connected cars. The use of Ethernet for infotainment and advanced driver assist system (ADAS) applications has become common, observed Broadcom's Abaye, due to the large amount of data required by such applications for transmission.

While Broadcom's automotive Ethernet physical layer transceiver chip, dubbed BCM89811, can deliver 100Mb/s performance over a single, unshielded twisted pair wire, it's also optimised for next-generation applications, Abaye said. These apps include instrumentation clusters and intelligent antennas for LTE support, he added.

Because the BCM89811 PHY eliminates the use of multiple discrete devices (low-pass filters are integrated on the PHY chip, and integrated internal regulators provide on-chip power, for example), it comes in an ultra-compact 6 x 6mm package. Compared to the company's previous 7 x 7mm package, Abaye said the reduced size makes the chip ideal for space-limited [automotive] camera modules, for example.

Further, by using an automotive-qualified 40nm design process, the chip reduces power consumption by 30 per cent, compared to the company's previous generation device (BroadR-Reach BCM89810), according to the company.

Ethernet as a backbone

Ethernet proponents in the electronics industry and the automotive market have previously argued the case for the in-car Ethernet. Broadcom's Abaye, for example, describes it as fit for the "centralised backbone architecture" inside cars for two reasons: cost and security.

Automakers have in the past used different network solutions in each of the isolated domains inside cars.

In-car networks include a low-bandwidth, local interconnect network (LIN), controller area network (CAN) used for various domains, and FlexRay offering 10Mb/s. In the entertainment and infotainment domains, the networks include point-to-point low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) and media oriented systems transport (MOST). Each technology presents different bandwidth, real-time support and other characteristics.

Abaye, however, argued that the Ethernet can "bridge" the different domains together as a backbone.

Car OEMs, however, have said they like those different network solutions because they can use them to isolate mission-critical data streams from infotainment data. Asked if that makes sense, Abaye acknowledged that he knows the argument and noted that it isn't necessarily so.

The network security features offered by the automotive Ethernet enables OEMs and Tier Ones to "virtually segregate infotainment from mission critical applications," claimed Abaye. He explained that the industry can leverage such Ethernet features as Virtual LAN to separate and isolate mission-critical data from non-critical data.

Because Broad-Reach technology is capable of delivering 100Mb/s over a single, unshielded twisted-pair, it can save car OEMs up to 80 per cent cost in wiring alone, according to Broadcom, compared to current market prices for unshielded single twisted-pair FlexRay cables. It can also reduce cabling weight by 30 per cent, compared to the combined weight of 2-metre twisted, single-pair FlexRay cables and connectors, the company added.

Beyond cost savings in physical connections, Abaye stressed that the automotive Ethernet will help reduce engineering complexity, and the resources needed to design and maintain many different networks inside a car. Experts also point out that a single network technology, where applicable, could avoid the need for gateways, which are proliferating as fast as ECUs.

Connected cars

Connected cars increase attack surfaces (Source: Broadcom)

While the industry promotes connected cars, it is also aware of their flipside. Connectivity adds more attack surfaces, making connected cars more vulnerable to malicious hacks.

However, Abaye contends that the automotive Ethernet can leverage security features developed for the standard Ethernet. For instance, the Ethernet's packet format can provide basic protection. The Ethernet also comes with bandwidth awareness, enabling "flow-based policing," he explained. "If too much bandwidth is being used for unknown reasons, it would alert us to potential attacks."

NFC for in-car device pairing

Richard Barrett, Broadcom's director of wireless connectivity, explained that a new automotive-grade NFC chip will be important, because wireless connectivity in cars is "a critical requirement in transferring content from mobile devices to the vehicle infotainment system."

In contrast to Broadcom's first-generation NFC for cars, which came in the form of module (the module was qualified as auto-grade but not the chip itself), the latest IC, BCM89095, is "a true automotive-grade chip," Barrett said. It's optimised to meet the stringent requirements of the automotive industry including extreme temperature tolerance, AECQ100, ISO9001 and TS16949 manufacturing guidelines.

Barrett explained that by leveraging NFC, drivers can pair a mobile device by simply tapping it against the dashboard. Drivers can also "quickly transfer what's on the screen of an Android phone" onto a navigation screen, for example, he said. "NFC can create the link (between the two screens) and initiate the data transfer."

NFC installed in windshields also allows a digital key to exchange data such as authentication, user profile and vehicle information, according to Broadcom. Barrett explained that this is especially useful in simplifying the car rental process.

Broadcom BCM89811 PHY and BCM89085 NFC chip are both sampling.

- Junko Yoshida
  EE Times

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