Ethernet Architected For The Future

With automotive Ethernet coming on strong, it helps to implement as much as possible in the hardware.

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I wonder if Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs, who invented Ethernet (on my 4th birthday, it turns out!), imagined their technology baby would be what enables the communication within future autonomous vehicles. If you’re curious too, here’s a video of Metcalfe discussing the history of Ethernet.

Fast forward to this week, when the Automotive Ethernet Congress was held in Munich, and from which John Swanson, Ethernet product line manager at Synopsys IP spoke to me.

He noted that there were more companies showing really expensive automotive Ethernet test equipment than he had ever seen including really expensive oscilloscopes, spectrum analyzers, “Things that you can actually go and look at the eyes and if you are going out to the PHYs people are talking about enabling debug in the PHYs for example. Something breaks and you need to be able to quickly figure out what is wrong. There are a lot of people showing stuff like that here. And then the papers are all over the place. Honestly, automotive Ethernet is like the wild west right now.”

I imagine part of the ‘wildness’ of automotive Ethernet is the fact that the standard is evolving, and quickly, so the ability to capture the specification is key for IP suppliers.

Swanson explained that Synopsys has been active in the IEEE and the TSN alliance going back to the original specs in 2009, so many of the specs the company implements in hardware. “If you look at the 802.1AS rev as an example – this is based on the IEEE 1588 profile and these things have to be done in hardware. Preemption has to be done in hardware because nothing is broken but you have a more important packet that you need to get somewhere, and a lot of the features need to be implemented in hardware so we have been aggressively releasing our cores to support these features.”

At the same time, the specs will definitely be evolving and will need to be updated at a later date, either in hardware or software.

Swanson pointed out that this is one of the amazing things about Ethernet. “Remember this is a protocol that’s been around since 1973 and the amazing thing about it is you could go buy an old Ethernet box, plug it into the network today and it will work. We work really hard to maintain the compatibility so from a hardware point of view new features will come out that you’re not going to be able to support, but maybe you can support them in software, and software can be updated over the air.”

At the end of the day, it seems entirely plausible that Metcalfe and Boggs had it right from the very start when they architected for the future.



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