For many years, Ethernet evolution was characterized by the “need for speed” as networks and data centers sought higher and higher throughput. But over time, Ethernet has found its way into applications unforeseen by the developers of the original specification, resulting in a broad and varied Ethernet ecosystem. Today the desire to bring the advantages of Ethernet into new applications necessitates a new approach where the needs of the application are considered first and foremost in defining new Ethernet incarnations.
In this new paradigm, the Ethernet roadmap combines new and existing data rates with other attributes to meet various applications’ requirements. Considerations can include distance, environmental factors, acquisition vs. operational cost, longevity vs. fast time to market, ease of use and flexibility, physical infrastructure reuse and even the size and weight of the cabling. In use cases ranging from industrial processes to security to connected cars, Ethernet is increasingly enabling your lifestyle, safety and productivity.
New Ethernet applications
Two new Ethernet specifications illustrate the application-driven approach for the automotive environment, which requires lightweight cabling and robustness in the face of harsh environmental conditions. The IEEE 802.3bw-2015 100BASE-T1 and IEEE 802.3bp-2016 1000BASE-T1 standards provide 100 Mb/s and 1000 Mb/s Ethernet over a single twisted pair copper cable in the “connected car” and mark the entry of Ethernet into vehicular applications to connect the growing number of intelligent devices found there.
As the number of connected devices in a vehicle design increases, the more valuable it becomes to provide the automotive industry with an in-vehicle, homogenous network architecture, and Ethernet serves that purpose very well. Enthusiasm appears to be high in this area, as industry discussion is already addressing the topic of “what’s next?” for automotive Ethernet.
Don’t be surprised, but the answer may be to go both faster and slower. The most cost and power sensitive devices, without a lot of data to move, may benefit from a single-pair 10 Mb/s specification. On the other hand, connecting sensors and compute resources for autonomous, self-driving vehicles will cause the bandwidth needs to surge well past 1 Gb/s, and Ethernet may be put to work once again to fill this need. Extending this idea even further, the IEEE 802.3 10 Mb/s Single Twisted Pair Ethernet Study Group is focused on bringing Ethernet protocol with lower costs and longer reaches to industrial automation, building automation and automotive applications.