Broadcom goes pedal to the metal in automotive

LAS VEGAS — Through the announcement of two new auto-grade chips that include an Ethernet physical layer transceiver IC and a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip, Broadcom Corp. is demonstrating this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) a strong commitment to its automotive initiative.

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.

A case in point is Broadcom's leading role in developing BroadR-Reach technology, an Ethernet physical layer standard designed for automotive connectivity applications.

Broadcom on Monday (Jan 5) is rolling out its next-generation BroadR-Reach Ethernet chip, designed for use in low-power automotive applications.

The company is also introducing a new 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 new auto-grade NFC chip offers tap-to-connect technology (Source: Broadcom)

Broadcom's new 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, told EE Times during the recent interview, “Automotive is the next focus for Broadcom R&D.”

Fueling 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 percent of new cars will be connected. More important, according to Abaye, Broadcom believes that “70 percent 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 new automotive Ethernet physical layer transceiver chip, dubbed BCM89811, can deliver 100-megabit per second (Mbps) performance over a single, unshielded twisted pair wire, it’s also optimized 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 6x6mm package. Compared to the company’s previous 7×7 mm package, Abaye said the reduced size makes the chip ideal for space-limited [automotive] camera modules, for example.

Further, by using an automotive-qualified 40-nanometer design process, the new chip reduces power consumption by 30 percent, 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 “centralized 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 10 Mbit/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, argues that the Ethernet can “bridge” the different domains together as a backbone.

To read more of this external content, go to “Broadcom goes pedal to the metal with Ethernet and NFC.

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