Standard technologies set to displace classical automotive ecosystems

January 16, 2014 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth and other standard IT technologies will conquer gradually more application fields and significantly gain market share within cars. No big surprise so far, given the commitments of carmakers, tier ones and semiconductor vendors across the board. Figures from market watcher ABI Research now allow for a more precise assessment of the success of standard IT technologies in future cars. The advance of standard IT could go at the expense of the classic vendors.

ABI expects Ethernet penetration to rise from its current share of just 1 % to 40 % in 2020. Main drivers for the accelerated roll-out in the second half of the decade are new data-rich applications such as camera-based driver assistance systems, the deployment of additional sensors throughout the cars in general, automated driving and connected infotainment, says ABI vice president and practice director Dominique Bonte. "Ethernet is now being considered as a replacement for legacy bus protocols such as MOST and FlexRay", Bonte says, adding that Ethernet is regarded as a good combination of low cost, bandwidth, cable harness weight and software complexity. Within the OEM camp, BMW and Hyundai are spearheading the technology.

But Ethernet is not the only standard from the commercial IT world adopted in the automotive industry. Certain wireless technologies, in particular Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and Gigabit WLAN (IEEE 802.11ac) will also be increasingly deployed within the vehicles, with the primary purpose of connecting smartphones and other portable digital devices to the head unit and the among the passengers. Along with these connectivity standards goes the roll-out of standard software such as Autosar and Jaspar. In addition, computing hardware and graphics processors from general-purpose markets is about to conquer dashboard and interior, with Audi's announcement to equip the cockpit of its TT coupé with an Nvidia graphics processor being just one example.

The tendency for standard ICT technology to increasingly enter the vehicles represents a threat for the suppliers of traditional automotive ecosystems such as Freescale, NXP or Renesas, the ABI researcher believes. In return, it opens new opportunities for chip vendors Broadcom, Intel and Qualcom as well as startups such as Silicon Image to sell automotive-grade versions of their products into the automotive market. These vendors could benefit from their existing product portfolios, the market watcher states in a recent study.

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