Auto Electronics

Bluetooth Takes a Big Bite

Bluetooth owns the automotive hands-free calling market, but what happens next in wireless multimedia streaming isn't as clear.

Bluetooth is moving quickly down-market from the luxury to the mid-priced segment of the automotive industry and is gaining momentum, at least for its hands-free calling properties, from legislative efforts to snatch cell phones from drivers' hands and from the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's (SIG's) own efforts to improve the protocol.

Bluetooth connections for hands-free phone operation, navigation, and support for digital music devices will be available as standard or optional equipment on the majority of 2008 models according to a recent survey by the Telematics Research Group. Nearly 70% of models for sale in North America will offer a voice-activated Bluetooth interface for hands-free phone operation. “Hands-free phone operation with voice recognition is becoming a must have in all segments of the auto industry,” said TRG co-founder and principal analyst Phil Magney.

Clare Hughes, an analyst in Strategy Analytics' Global Auto-motive Practice and author of a recent study of Bluetooth, said the protocol dominates the OEM and aftermarket segments of the in-vehicle hands-free communications systems market. She estimated that by 2013, the in-vehicle communications market will reach 123 million units, valued at $34 billion, with the automotive Bluetooth market set to reach 116 million units, or 94% of total shipments.


According to Hughes, all major carmakers are currently offering Bluetooth with the exception of GM, and a GM spokeswoman noted that Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are both in the automaker's production pipeline. Increasing availability of Bluetooth as an integrated feature on embedded infotainment systems and portable navigation devices (PNDs), and the mi-gration of Bluetooth advanced audio distribution profile (A2DP) for music streaming are emerging trends, noted Hughes.

The Bluetooth SIG earlier this summer adopted core specification version 2.1+ enhanced data rate (EDR), which promises simpler pairing, better security, and lower power consumption.

The new version enables near-field communication (NFC), which potentially makes the pairing of Bluetooth devices as easy as touching products together. The version also includes eavesdropper pro-tection based on elliptic curve Diffie-Hellman technology, which is said to make a six-digit, device-generated passkey stronger than a 16-character PIN code, and “Man in the Middle” protection to eliminate the possibility of an undetected middleman intercepting communication. A sniff-subrating feature is said to increase battery life in Bluetooth devices by up to five times.

Bluetooth components are in abundant supply. Infineon Technologies is updating its BlueMoon UniCellular chip (PMB 8753) to support Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (Figure 1). Based on a 130 nm CMOS process, the device occu-pies 40 square mm of board space while providing receiver sensitivity of -90 dBm even in EDR mode. Christian Winkelmeyr, vice president of program management, Mobile Platforms, for Infineon's Feature Phone Business Unit, said Bluetooth transceivers are becoming commodity items, and thus Infineon has plans to integrate a Bluetooth transceiver with a baseband IC for handset applications.

National Semiconductor's Simply Blue family of Bluetooth modules includes the LMX9838 (Figure 2), which combines a Bluetooth 2.0 baseband controller, 2.4 GHz radio, crystal, antenna, LDO and discrete devices in a 10 mm × 17 mm × 2.0 mm package. Based on National's 16-bit CompactRISC processor architecture and Digital Smart Radio technology, the LMX9838 includes an embedded Bluetooth protocol stack, application-specific profiles, and a high-level command interpreter.


OEMs, tier one firms and component suppliers are contemplating the potential for Bluetooth applications beyond hands-free calling, and for that purpose are factoring A2DP and other profiles into their product development plans.

Continental Automotive Systems is developing a next-generation telematics gateway that will support A2DP. The firm said drivers will be able to download digital music to their cars and access songs using either voice commands, controls in the steering wheel, or the instrument panel. Continental is also exploring how it can use mesh technology for peer-to-peer mobile gaming or web surfing using voice commands.

“OEMs are looking at different applications using (Bluetooth) technology because it is already there, it is already interoperable, and it is already installed in cars,” said Rafik Jallad, automotive business manager at CSR. “There are several applications that people are looking at, such as MP3 streaming and remote-control capabilities,” Jallad added.”

Chrysler was among the first automakers to offer Bluetooth hands-free calling, according to Mike Kane, director of feature innovation and advanced technology strategy (FIAT), but it's moving cautiously on music streaming. “A Bluetooth-connected media player uses a lot of power,” he explained. “Better to plug it in so the battery doesn't go dead.” Chrysler plans to offer a factory solution with steering wheel controls for iPods and iPhones in MY2008 vehicles. Customers with other music players will be able to plug them in and play them through their vehicle's speaker system, but will have to use their player to select songs.

Toyota does not currently offer Bluetooth support for music players, but intends to do so, stated John McLaughlin, national manager for cross-car planning at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

“Bluetooth has the advantage of being a short-range protocol, so a user won't get interference from another vehicle,” commented McLaughlin. “The disadvantage is bandwidth. Bluetooth quality is in question for audio and video, so other wireless technologies should be considered, such as Wi-Fi or wireless USB. Both have better bandwidth (than Bluetooth) but interference is more complex. It's unclear at this point if either of them could replace Bluetooth. There is potential for streaming video wirelessly to rear seats.”

Chrysler is the first auto-maker to deploy Backseat TV from SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The service delivers video content from Nickelodeon, Disney Channel and Cartoon Network on the same frequency spectrum allocation as SIRIUS radio. Planned for deployment in 2008 model year vehicles from Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge, the service requires an in-vehicle satellite video receiver, manufactured by Delphi, and two roof-mounted antennas. STMicroelectronics provides the digital broadcasting chipset (Figure 3). The video receiver includes an STA210 RF tuner IC; an STA240 channel, service and source decoder IC, and a STA264 hierarchical demodulator chip.

Fabricated on a BiSMOS6G SiGe process, the 3.3 V STA210 is a 2.3 GHz to 76.5 MHz downconverter ASIC for satellite and terrestrial signals. It uses three surface acoustic waveform (SAW) filters to split the three SIRIUS broadcast component signals into their respective sub-bands. The STA240, fabricated in 0.13 µm HCMOS9 technology, includes two satellite and one terrestrial signal demodulators and decoders. The STA264 extracts the video stream, performs error correction, and presents data to external application processors.

Mike Kasparian, market development manager for ST-Microelectronics' automotive business unit, said ST developed a custom chip for SIRIUS to complement the baseband audio chip it already supplied. “Ultimately, we would like to integrate video decoding into the main SIRIUS chipset,” he said.


Chipmakers and tier one firms alike are adopting platform strategies to cope with the rapid pace of change in consumer electronics. “Tier one firms have transformed themselves over the past four or five years,” observed Nick DiFiore, systems architect and acting general manager of Xilinx Inc.'s Automotive Division. “They used to design products one at a time, for one customer at a time, but now, with the explosive pace of consumer electronics and the need to manage engineering resources efficiently, they are designing platforms; keeping in mind the range of capabilities they'll need to address a product category, the requirements of their various OEM customers, and figuring out how to do that without having to do 10 different designs.”

“The number of potential automotive multimedia data sources is staggering: digital map data on DVD or hard disk drive, points of information data, in-vehicle information based on GPS coordinates, user inputs through voice command or console controls, and external information like satellite radio and real-time traffic,” remarked Jan Liband, vice president of marketing at Encirq Corporation.

Encirq is working with a tier one supplier to develop a center unit that can “read” streaming content — including music and metadata — from a variety of wireless devices. Its software creates an embedded database of metadata and provides a dynamic filtering capability.

According to Steve Brown, infotainment systems program manager for Siemens VDO, consumers want wireless connectivity for hands-free calling, downloading addresses, or for navigation. He said Siemens has software that allows it to take vector data from a map content provider and redraw it to fit a vehicle display screen without distortion.

Technology called seamless mobile integration (SMI) could become a de facto standard for connecting Bluetooth devices if enough device manufacturers write SMI proxies. Siemens is working with the Bluetooth SIG, and Brown said some device makers have signed up already to make their devices connectable via SMI. Siemens wrote a proxy to demonstrate how the technology would work with a Blackberry.

Ford's Sync system, developed with Microsoft, supports wireless streaming of music from cell phones and portable music players via A2DP. It also offers streaming of Internet radio from connected phones. Users can connect and charge their portable devices through a USB port and once devices have been connected, music files can be accessed via voice commands. Sync is powered by Freescale Semiconductor's ARM11-based i.MX31 multimedia applications processor, which recently met AECQ-100 criteria.

A plethora of multimedia applications has drawn the attention of automotive semiconductor suppliers. NEC Electronics America offers the MP201, a single-chip application processor that integrates video and audio data processors, memory, and peripheral interfaces. NEC Electronics partnered with Ricoh Co., Ltd. in developing the device.

Analog Devices' Blackfin and SHARC processors are driving in-cabin entertainment systems in the Audi A5 Coupé. The entertainment systems include the Audi Symphony and Concert digital radios, a digital audio broadcast (DAB) option, a six-CD changer and a multimedia device interface for connecting to personal media players. Blackfin ADSP-BF539 and ADSP-BF532 processors will power the DAB radio and MP3-compatible six-way CD changer. A Blackfin ADSP-BF532 drives the music interface, which integrates portable media players, including the Apple iPod. An optional Bang & Olufsen surround sound amplifier is based on an ADI SHARC ADSP-21362 processor.

The Blackfin and SHARC processors provide all audio decoding and processing functions, communications protocol processing, and control processing for the Audi's driver interface. The Audi also uses analog signal processing components including ADM6319, a supervisory circuit that monitors power supply voltage levels and code execution integrity in microprocessor-based systems; an 8-bit AD7478, a low-power, successive approximation (SAR) analog-to-digital converter (ADC); the AD9280 single-supply, 8-bit, 32 megasample per-second (Msps) ADC, and the ADuC7032 precision battery monitor sensor in 12 V automotive applications.

At Convergence last fall, NXP Semiconductors launched the Nexperia PNX9520 media processor for automotive infotainment. The part is said to be flexible enough for customers to deliver a range of media technologies for different markets by implementing audio and video codecs as they become available, and adding multimedia features as they become sufficiently popular. Pierre Mehn, product marketing manager for NXP's car entertainment solutions business line, said that by offering more functionality through software, the firm hopes to help customers keep their infotainment systems up to date. The PNX9520 supports video decoding standards including MPEG-1, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 video, Windows Media Video, H.264 baseline, and JPEG picture display. It also supports the DVB-T digital broadcasting standard for high-end picture quality and MPEGs, AC3 (Dolby Digital) and Window Media Audio decoding standards.

Programmable logic developer Xilinx Inc. and Xylon, which specializes in IP cores, collaborated on a development board specifically for infotainment applications. The logiCRAFT2 system, with Xilinx Spartan-3 FPGAs and a 32-bit MicroBlaze soft processor, can drive up to three displays (e.g., one front navigation display and two rear seat displays) and simultaneously display different video streams on each screen. Potential video applications include game consoles, digital TVs, DVD players, and external cameras. The board supports a variety of video input/output standards.

Automakers and suppliers are contemplating what might follow Bluetooth. “Wi-Fi allows communication at relatively high speed from the vehicle via the Internet, possibly for downloading movies and other information,” said Chrysler's Kane. “The problem is that it is a short-range technology, and the vehicle must be stationary. WiMAX offers broader bandwidth, and Sprint is rolling out test markets equipped with WiMAX. Wi-Fi has a range of half a mile compared with 31 miles for WiMAX. That means fewer cell towers and a less costly infrastructure. Like cellular, it's fairly well encrypted.”

Beginning in 2010, noted Infineon's Winkelmeyr, the European Union will require E-Call functionality in every vehicle. “This will require a low data rate, GSM/Edge mobile connection, and a GPS receiver, and the idea of putting a modem in a car has started tier one suppliers thinking.


John Day writes about automotive electronics. He holds a BA in liberal arts from Northeastern University and an MA in journalism from Penn State. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

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