Are Standards Ready for In-Vehicle Infotainment?

By John Blyler, Contributing Editor

In-car entertainment (ICE) or in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) is a collection of hardware and software in automobiles that provides audio or video entertainment.  While cars of the past had only radios with cassette or CD players, today’s automobiles include automotive GPS navigation systems, streaming video, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, internet, and WiFi. The car of tomorrow will add heads-up and transparent window displays, cellular, and 4G/5G communications to that list—among others. Consumers are driving the push for familiar technology in the evolving in-vehicle infotainment market with their desire to use their smartphone, tablet, and other handheld devices in the car. They expect any additional IVI system to offer a similar user experience, including common interfaces like WiFi, Bluetooth, and USB. Cellular links are expected to be the next must-have feature. With all of these factors in play, the global in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) market is expected to reach $52.2 billion by 2022, according to a recent BIS Automotive report.

To meet the consumer demand and keep costs down, IVI vendors are trying to reuse more technologies from adjacent markets like consumer and even industrial. On the technical side, the listening, talking, and video experience must be as good as in the existing consumer space. In particular, IVI designs must match the quality of the audio and resolution of the video for the driver and all the passengers. No one will want their streaming audio or video interrupted for underpowered electronics or poor connections.

In addition, video streaming to all of the car’s potential display units requires careful design of the entire video interface architecture. Not every user will need the highest video bandwidth possible, but all will require acceptable audio and video quality. A successful architecture must meet all the video link requirements of bandwidth, power usage, and security. Real-time video-processing capabilities must be balanced with cost. In addition to performance and quality, the actual connectivity choices of wired or wireless will depend on cost, long-term semiconductor support from suppliers, and automotive considerations like weight, space, power, etc.

Wireless Connectivity

The same features that drive the mobile and home entertainment sectors are expected to drive the in-vehicle infotainment market including high-definition video, cloud streaming, and content sharing among multiple devices. One of the wireless technology standards capable of meeting these needs is IEEE 802.11ad (WiGig)—a short-range super version of Wi-Fi. The Wireless Gigabit Alliance (WiGig) is a trade association that develops and promotes the adoption of multi-gigabit-per-second-speed wireless communications technology operating over the unlicensed 60-GHz band.

The 802.11ad technology is a relatively new wireless standard that uses the 60 GHz (millimeter-wave) spectrum instead of 5.0 and 2.4 GHz, which are used by most Wi-Fi connections. It boasts a theoretical maximum speed of 7 Gbits/s. It is free from license fees and can transmit data directly over wireless HDMI, a commonly used interface for high-definition 4K video streaming and lag-free screen mirroring between smartphones and in-car displays. For example, using IEEE 802.11ad Multi-Giga High-Density connectivity, a passenger could download a 4K resolution, one-hour-long TV show in about 30 seconds.

Two years ago, Qualcomm Technologies teamed up with the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team as a technology partner for automotive applications based on IEEE 802.11ad. They are currently conducting field trials to test the high-speed wireless download of vehicle sensor information utilizing 802.11ad Wi-Fi technology in the 60-GHz band.  During these field trials, race engineers utilize both 5 GHz 802.11ac and multi-gigabit 802.11ad Wi-Fi technology.

The IEEE 802.11ac standard is a variant of the 801.11ad technology (Fig. 1). The former has a lower data transmission rate of 1 GByte/s. In contrast, WiGig (802.11ad) is a 60-GHz interface with very short range. WiGig is more of an in-room/in-car technology while 802.11ac is targeted more as a WiFi successor. Other wireless HD technologies for vehicle infotainment systems include WirelessHD, WHDI, WiDi/Miracast, and Multistream Wi-Fi.

Figure 1
This graphic provides an overview of the IEEE 802.11x standards family.

Wired Connectivity

The push to reuse Ethernet technology in automotive systems is nothing new. For example, the OPEN (One-Pair Ether-Net) Alliance Special Interest Group was founded several years ago by Broadcom (see http://www.opensig.org/ for more information). This industry consortium focuses on driving the wide-scale adoption of Ethernet-based automotive connectivity as the standard in automotive connectivity. In the wired in-vehicle connectivity space, which includes infotainment, Ethernet Audio-Visual Bridging (AVB) systems are being adapted to fit automotive wiring requirements by BMW and other manufacturers. 

In an effort to reuse existing connectivity standards while reducing cost and ensuring commonality among different automotive car manufacturers and consumers, the IEEE has created a set of standards known as IEEE 802.1 Audio Video Bridging (AVB) comprising:

  • IEEE 802.1BA: [4] Audio Video Bridging (AVB) Systems
  • IEEE 802.1AS: Timing and Synchronization for Time-Sensitive Applications (gPTP)
  • IEEE 802.1Qat: Stream Reservation Protocol (SRP)
  • IEEE 802.1Qav: Forwarding and Queuing for Time-Sensitive Streams (FQTSS)

Another wired connectivity technology uses the Media-Oriented Systems Transport (MOST) networking architecture to support reliable and high-data-rate throughput for multimedia applications. MOST can be found in high-end vehicles, but may not be able to provide adequate performance for today’s evolving video-streaming needs.

In summary, wireless technologies help to alleviate the physical wiring issues in automobiles. But they may have shortcomings in throughput and potential for interference with other safety-focused vehicle control systems. One the other hand, wired technologies like Ethernet may not meet the stringent wiring requirements aimed to mitigate electromagnetic interference for long wiring solutions. The need to meet customer expectations for existing mobile connectivity experiences may ultimately decide the winning technology.

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Close up of car speaker