Driven mainly by consumer demand to stream high-definition video from their mobile devices to displays throughout their cars, the market for semiconductors used in automotive wired and wireless network applications is expected to nearly double from 2011 to 2018, according to an IHS Automotive Infotainment market tracker report from information and analytics provider IHS.
Revenue in 2018 for semiconductor in-vehicle connectivity and networking is forecast to reach $841.8 million, up from $438.8 million in 2011. The market this year is expected to rise to $585.4 million, up from $545.1 million last year. The segment takes a big jump to $663.4 million next year, followed by two years of revenue in the $700 million range and then clearing the $800 million mark in 2017.
The need for audio and video data streaming inside motor vehicles is real and compelling, IHS Automotive believes. Consumers are expressing a greater desire to watch content from mobile gadgets like handsets and tablets on vehicle displays including DVD players, rear-seat entertainment panels and navigation units. Original equipment manufacturers (OEM) of both cars and vehicle infotainment systems also are promoting such functionality for pure entertainment as well as for safety purposes, such as when vehicle display units show traffic or other content that impact safety.
Other driving forces for semiconductor in-vehicle connectivity and networking include Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and safety applications, as well as headunit and entertainment systems embedded in the vehicle.
In general, the amount of video that can be streamed to the car’s display units could be extensive, requiring careful design of the entire video interface architecture to allow seamless transmission. Moreover, several considerations could affect the video link requirements for bandwidth and security, including digital content protection, the quality of the video and audio streams, and the real-time video-processing capabilities of equipment.
Whether wired or wireless technology is chosen for in-car connectivity will depend on cost, long-term semiconductor support from suppliers, readiness for integration within the vehicle, and issues related to performance and quality.
High-bandwidth wireless technologies
Features like high-definition video, cloud streaming and content sharing among multiple devices already are available in industry segments like home entertainment. Because of this, the same requirements are expected to drive the integration of such features in vehicle infotainment systems.
Among the high-definition wireless technologies now available or under development for vehicle infotainment, 802.11ad (WiGig) appears to be the most suitable solution.
The 802.11ad technology claims a throughput of approximately 7 gigabytes per second compared to Wi-Fi speeds of 100 megabytes per second. It is free from license fees, and can transmit data directly over wireless HDMI, a commonly used interface for high definition.
Already, Japan’s Panasonic has plans to embed a WiGig module on an SD memory card for use in cars by the middle of this year. And while its coverage of 1 to 3 meters is considered by some to be short and tantamount to a physical drawback, that range is enough in most commercial vehicles for video and audio transmission between passengers in a car to their display unit of choice.
A variant of the 801.11ad technology also exists in the form of 801.11ac, which has a lower data transmission rate of 1 gigabyte per second. San Diego-based Qualcomm is among the semiconductor suppliers preparing such a solution for vehicle use, but the application is not expected before 2015.
Other wireless HD technologies for vehicle infotainment systems include WirelessHD, WHDI, WiDi/Miracast and Multistream Wi-Fi.
Wired technologies via Ethernet and network implementation
Several indicators suggest that an automotive version of Ethernet might soon be available, backed by an increase in bandwidth and safety application requirements, and supported by many key auto players that believe Ethernet offers several benefits. Among wired technologies for in-car connectivity, Ethernet AVB can be adapted to fit tough automotive wiring requirements, with BMW targeting its first pilot vehicles with Ethernet by 2013-14 and a complete Ethernet-cabled vehicle by 2020.
A second wired technology revolves around dedicated network architectures such as Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) in order to achieve high data-rate throughput and reliable performance for multimedia applications. MOST can be found in high-end vehicle brands, but the MOST bus has limitations that could jeopardize its ability to deliver adequate performance for future content-transmission systems in vehicle infotainment devices.
Questions also exist on whether MOST and Ethernet can coexist, and in what time frame, or if Ethernet will instead be predominant in the midterm due to its superior cost position over MOST.
Other wired technologies expected to compete for a place in the vehicle are LVDS, APIX, HDMI and MHL. In particular, HDMI and MHL are expected to be present soon in cars of the future, following the momentum that both technologies currently enjoy in smartphones and other handheld consumer applications.
Wired or wireless?
Wireless technologies provide obvious ease of transfer for consumers by dispensing with physical wiring altogether, but drawbacks exist like error rates in higher-bit transmissions, as well as sensitivity to interference that might not make wireless technologies suitable for safety-critical vehicle applications.
Meanwhile, wired technologies like Ethernet seem ready for deployment, but stringent automotive requirements that target high electromagnetic interference for long wiring solutions—possibly running along the entire vehicle—must also be taken into consideration.
The consensus seems to be that high-definition wireless deployment in automobiles may not be feasible in the short term due to limited supplier engagement, together with currently incomplete specifications and standards.
Overall, it will be up to the consumer electronics field and its influence on the automotive sector to make high-definition video streaming happen, further boosting passenger flexibility to interact with a vehicle’s infotainment system, IHS Automotive believes.
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