IEEE Studying Lighter Gigabit Ethernet Cable for Use in Cars

Ethernet has gained speed many times, and now it may be about to lose weight.

On Monday, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) announced the formation of study group on reduced twisted pair Gigabit Ethernet. The group will look at whether to develop a standard that would deliver performance as high as the current Gigabit Ethernet over cables with fewer wires inside, a goal considered important for in-car networks.

Ethernet is starting to emerge as a key automotive technology as cars are equipped with more entertainment and communication options, plus safety features such as rear-view video cameras. Though cellular and satellite communications are increasingly important to link a car to the world outside, and Bluetooth and Wi-Fi have roles inside, such as for hands-free phone use, some data transfers in a car still need to happen over wires.

Wireless networks are affected by too many performance variables, including interference, to be used for linking electronics in cars, according to Kevin Brown, vice president and general manager of chip maker Broadcom's Ethernet Transceiver Business Unit. High speed, low latency and reliability are critical for transmitting signals among different parts of the car, especially for safety-related functions, he said at a Broadcom event in December. At the time, Brown said Broadcom was working with automakers on thin, lightweight cables for this purpose.

As future vehicles are designed, the number of possible electronic features is growing to include multiple outside cameras, more sophisticated control systems and better platforms for driver information, entertainment and navigation. Today, in-car networks typically use specialized, proprietary wiring for different connections around the car. It would be easier to incorporate new systems if cars had standard Ethernet networks that each component could plug into, according to Brown.

However, the need for fuel efficiency means that weight is a major consideration for any component of a car, so the new IEEE 802.3 Reduced Twisted Pair Gigabit Ethernet Study Group may try to define an alternative to the cable used for Ethernet in buildings. That cable has four pairs of copper wires, and the standards group thinks it might be possible to run Gigabit Ethernet on a cable with fewer pairs. This type of cable might have other uses, such as industrial control and avionics, the IEEE said in a press release.

The standards group is inviting individuals to contribute to the new study group, which is scheduled to meet at the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Interim Session starting May 14 in Minneapolis.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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