The wireless automobile: A roving hot spot

October 16, 2014

The wireless automobile: A roving hot spot

The wireless revolution has created the Internet of Everything with billions of devices interconnected via the web. One of the most interesting and ch...

The wireless revolution has created the Internet of Everything with billions of devices interconnected via the web. One of the most interesting and challenging environments to connect to the Internet is the automobile. There are hundreds of millions of cars in the world, and each is a metal, glass, and plastic cocoon zipping its passengers around at high speed in safety and comfort. In the future, every car will have connectivity within the vehicle, be interconnected to each other, and Internet-connected to the cloud.

Not surprisingly, no single wireless technology will be used for all of these applications. There will be a combination of several different technologies, some of which could even potentially interfere with each other. Hence, the automotive OEMs and their Tier 1 suppliers will have to pay careful attention to good engineering practices for the connected car to bring the full safety and convenience benefits of the connected car to consumers.

If we look at all the wireless technologies that will be in the connected car, they span a broad range of safety, convenience, and entertainment applications. Examples are:


  • Wi-Fi (2.4/5/60 GHz)
  • Bluetooth and Bluetooth Smart (2.4 GHz)
  • GPS (1.575 GHz)
  • DSRC (5.9 GHz)
  • Cellular (LTE, etc.) (800/900/1,800/1,900/2,100/2,500 MHz)
  • NFC (various)
  • Satellite radio (2,320-2,345 MHz/US, DAB 1,452-1,492 MHz)
  • AM/FM broadcast (540-1,610 kHz, 87.9-107.9 MHz)
  • Wireless charging
  • Radar sensors

Three of the most exciting areas that are emerging for automotive use are in-car Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Smart, and Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC). Wi-Fi will provide Internet connectivity within the car, making the vehicle a mobile hot spot. It’ll also stream audio and video from the car’s infotainment system to passenger’s computers, tablets, and smartphones.

In addition, users will be able to share the screen of their mobile devices with other screens in the car using Wi-Fi Miracast technology to watch movies or other A/V content. An example would be using the navigation application on your smartphone, but mirroring the smartphone screen on the in-car display as well as sharing the turn-by-turn audio through the car’s speakers.

Wi-Fi could also be used to download movies and music from either your home media server or a hotspot at a gas station into the in-vehicle infotainment system – you could fill up your car with movies while filling up your tank with gas!

There’s also a strong appetite among Tier 1s and OEMs for integrating more Bluetooth Smart connectivity applications in-vehicle. The possibilities run from keyless entry systems replacing proprietary lock and unlock technologies to smartphone apps saving drivers’ preferred settings and displaying diagnostic information. You could also control your vehicle directly from your smartphone as opposed to using the car’s telematics control unit. This is certainly an attractive proposition for consumers and businesses alike.

Imagine car rental businesses such as Hertz and Avis providing apps that configure the rental car according to your preferences when you enter the vehicle. Dual-mode Bluetooth Smart chips have been shipping into the automotive market since 2011 and are already embedded in head units, ready to communicate with the Bluetooth Smart chips in steering wheel switches, tire pressure monitoring sensors, key fobs, and remote controls.

A related technology that’s more focused on safety is DSRC, which will be used for vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) applications. The V2V functions will let vehicles broadcast information to each other about their speed, position, and other information that will allow prediction and avoidance of crashes. DSRC will allow vehicles to detect and track other vehicles for hundreds of meters around them, providing long range, non-line-of-sight sensing that will enhance and complement radar and laser sensors.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) as a precursor to a formal rulemaking in 2016. If this rulemaking proceeds, there would be a mandate that all light trucks and cars sold in the U.S. will have to be equipped with DSRC, which would take effect before the end of this decade.

While certainly convenient, an additional reason for auto makers to choose these wireless technologies comes down to economics. They can reduce the amount of wire and cable in the car, which in turn can substantially reduce the weight (up to several pounds) and complexity of establishing communication networks in the car. Ultimately, it offers the opportunity to consolidate systems.

As autonomous vehicles evolve and become commonplace, wireless technologies will guide the vehicle safely between destinations while passengers relax and enjoy entertainment and connectivity that was previously only available in their living rooms. Through careful engineering practice to ensure that all these wireless systems complement each other, we’re clearly accelerating toward a world of “wireless on wheels.”

Dr. Jim Lansford is a Fellow in the Global Standards Group at Cambridge Silicon Radio (CSR), responsible for Wi-Fi standards and strategy. He has more than 30 years of experience in communications systems, digital signal processing, and strategic business development. Lansford was formerly the co-chair of 802.15.3a (high-speed UWB) as well as former chair of 802.19 (Coexistence) within IEEE 802, and was also a vice-chair of IEEE 802.15.2. He is currently vice-chair of the Wireless Next Generation Standing Committee as well as chairing a Tiger Team on coexistence between DSRC and unlicensed WLAN technologies in IEEE 802.11. In the Wi-Fi Alliance, he chairs the Automotive Market Segment Task Group, and is vice-chair of both the Long Range Strategy and the Wi-Fi SensorNet groups.

Jim Lansford, Cambridge Silicon Radio