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The Ethernet is a Critical Enabler of Modern Automobile Technology

Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly using sophisticated electronic systems to deliver enhanced driver safety and convenience and the modern car can contain anywhere between 30 and 100 electronic control units, (ECUs), supporting functions such as safety, engine management, navigation and infotainment.

Fred Weiller, Senior Director of Solutions Marketing, Keysight Technologies

Advanced driver-assistance systems, (ADAS) are one of the fastest-growing segments in automotive electronics and, as their use grows, the large amount of data generated and shared by them is putting pressure on in-car connectivity systems. Existing automotive serial bus technologies are unable to support ADAS data rates and bandwidth requirements and are unable to scale to provide the future proof platform required by car manufacturers.

As with the office and, more recently, the factory, the ubiquitous Ethernet protocol offers a potential solution but has drawbacks in terms of real-time capability and also its ability to handle automotive EMI and environmental conditions. Recognizing the need for faster on-board communication networks, the OPEN Alliance, adopted a concept originally developed by BMW and Broadcom to release the BroadR-Reach or Automotive Ethernet protocol.

As well as supporting the higher data volumes and rates generated by ADAS, replacement of traditional wiring harnesses with Automotive Ethernet brings a number of benefits, including up to 80 percent reduction in connectivity costs and up to 30 percent in cable-weight saving.

This new Ethernet standard changes established testing procedures and suppliers, system developers and manufacturers in the automotive eco-system must ensure that comprehensive physical layer, protocol, conformance testing, security and harness testing are in place. A wide range of modern testing solutions are available to the systems developer to simplify and speed up testing and reduce time to market.

Evolution of In-Car Technology

Adoption of in-car technology continues apace with automotive electrical systems becoming more and more complex, enabling applications such as infotainment, ADAS, power trains and body electronics, such as entry systems. In the last decade, the amount of electronic control units, (ECUs), contained in the average new car has more than doubled, both in complexity and volume.

Figure 1: Modern Car systems depend upon a variety of sensors (Source:

Safety is a key driver of this technology with a range of applications emerging over time, including adaptive cruise control (ACC), followed by automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot detection, (BSD) and lane-change assist (LCA), vehicle-exit assist (VEA) and pre-crash warning (PCW).

At the same time, the evolution of wireless network technologies has enabled the concept of the connected car and, with the arrival of 5G, V2X technology will enable the car to share data with its surroundings, including other vehicles, pedestrians, roadside infrastructure and remote monitoring centres.

These systems collect, process, generate and share vast amounts of data – as much as 4 TB per day according to some analysts – putting pressure on existing on-board wiring systems and communication protocols.

Emergence of the Automotive Ethernet

This evolution in automotive technology has driven the development of a number of serial bus systems, (Table 1), each with their own characteristics and aimed at supporting different applications. The growth in new applications, each with specific communications requirements, quickly led to a situation where the car wiring harness had become the third heaviest and third most costly component of the average car, accounting for as much as 50% of assembly costs.

Serial BusYearDescription
CAN (Controller Area Network)1983Shared serial bus supporting up to 1 Mbps data rates. Cost effective & reliable but is based on shared access and suitable only for low bandwidth applications. Typically used in powertrain, chassis and body electronics.
LVDS (Low Voltage Differential Signaling)1994Point-to-point link used mainly for camera and video data. Can only interface with on device at a time.
LIN (Local Interconnect Network)1998Low data-rate, 19,200 bps, based on master-slave architecture. Used mainly in body electronics, e.g. mirrors, power seats and accessories
MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport)1998Ring architecture supporting up to 150 Mbps on fiber or copper

Each ring can host up to 64 devices

High bandwidth but also high cost

FlexRay2000Shared serial bus running up to 10 Mbps

Typically used in high-performance powertrain and safety systems, e.g. drive-by-wire, active suspension and adaptive cruise control

CAN FD (Flexible Data-Rate)2012Extension to CAN, to support higher bandwidth

Enables more accurate and near-real-time data

Table 1: Common Automotive Serial Bus technologies

This cost and complexity of the in-vehicle network was beginning to have an impact on the time taken to get new cars to market. Additionally, the legacy serial bus systems were struggling to support the rapidly growing data throughput and capacity needs of the emerging applications.

Having identified the requirement for a high-bandwidth, scalable network, based on a future-proof, open architecture, BMW collaborated with Broadcom, developing a customized variant of Ethernet technology, BroadR-Reach. This new Ethernet PHY solution met automotive EMC requirements while saving weight by using a single twisted pair. The initial BMW/Broadcom collaboration led to the formation of the OPEN (One Pair Ethernet) alliance, an ecosystem of vendors and partners which adopted and promoted the BroadR-Reach technology and now works to encourage further development of Ethernet PHY solutions for automotive applications. Recognizing the growing need for an Ethernet solution adapted to the specific requirements of the automotive industry, the IEEE released the 802.3bw-2015 Ethernet standard, also known as 100Base-T1, which is based upon and interoperable with BroadR-Reach.

BroadR-Reach is a hybrid of the 100Base-T and 1000Base-T protocols, adopting the best aspects of each one, while stressing the characteristics which are best suited for automotive applications. By reducing the data rate from 125 MHz to 66.67 MHz BroadR-Reach is able to run over lower quality (and hence lower cost) cabling and can also meet the stringent automotive signal-integrity requirements.

OPEN and IEEE continue to work together on activities to develop the Automotive Ethernet, including a new standard for 1 Gbps over a single twisted pair, 1000Base-T1, and also the incorporation of Ethernet deterministic capabilities, such as time synchronization, (IEEE 802.1AS) and time-triggered Ethernet, (IEEE 802.3br).

Initially limited to diagnostic testing and firmware updates, the growing capabilities of Automotive Ethernet have driven an expansion of its use within the modern vehicle, from peripheral functionality such as diagnostics and firmware upgrades towards becoming the in-vehicle backbone network.

Testing of Advanced automobile systems

Successful implementation of any system using Automotive Ethernet requires a comprehensive test plan, supported by an appropriate testing solution. Figure 2 shows the complete Automotive Ethernet stack.

Figure 2: The Automotive Ethernet stack (Source: Keysight Technologies)

At the physical layer, figure 3, three points must be tested to validate compliance – the transmitter, the receiver, (integrated into the Ethernet PHY), and the link itself, which includes the wire harness and any connectors.

Test solutions are available for each point, which minimize test complexity and testing time.

Transceiver testing solutions are available which enable automatic configuration and pre-packaged set-up of compliance tests.

Modern test equipment also provides graphical output displays, showing connections to the device under test as well as printable pass/fail HTML reports.

Figure 3: The Physical Link (Source:

Complete testing at the link level must cover cable continuity, connector integrity and must also validate crosstalk levels across the entire communication channel.

At the higher levels of the stack, solution testing methodologies must validate the automotive TCP/IP stack as well as functionality such as time synchronization, (IEEE 802.1AS), audio video bridging transport, (802.1 Qav) and scheduled traffic transmission, (IEEE 802.1 Qbv)


The modern car is packed with electronics supporting driver safety and convenience and, as autonomous driving technology and connected car systems continue to evolve, the Automotive Ethernet promises to hold the key to in-car networking challenges. While Automotive Ethernet addresses the high data rates, bandwidth and EMI requirements of in-car electronic systems, it also brings new challenges for testing and implementation.

Effective testing at each layer of the Automotive Ethernet stack is essential to support rapid diagnostics and establish confidence in the system or subsystem. Organizations such as Keysight Technologies provide a range of innovative test solutions and support to the system designer, developer and integrator. Product examples include the Keysight AE6900T Automotive Ethernet Tx compliance solution and the Keysight E6962A Automotive Ethernet Rx compliance solutions. Together, these software solutions provide a comprehensive set of Ethernet compliance software to test the four different automotive Ethernet standards; BroadR-Reach, IEEE 100BASE-T1, IEEE1000BASE-T1 and the One-pair-Ether-Net (OPEN) Alliance ECU.


Nitisha Dubey

I am a Journalist with a post graduate degree in Journalism & Mass Communication. I love reading non-fiction books, exploring different destinations and varieties of cuisines. Biographies and historical movies are few favourites.

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