Plastic Optical Fiber (POF) technology is rapidly replacing existing systems as OEMs strive to meet consumer demand for more electronic devices in cars. This has led to an increase in the bandwidth demands within the vehicle.

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Issue: Jan 2013

Plastic optical fiber meets demand for bandwidth, lower costs

by Lenny Case

Plastic Optical Fiber (POF) technology is rapidly replacing existing systems as OEMs strive to meet consumer demand for more electronic devices in cars. This has led to an increase in the bandwidth demands within the vehicle.

In response to this demand, Spanish company Knowledge Development for Plastic Optical Fibers (KDPOF) has developed a gigabit, standardized, SI-POF based physical layer which meets the automotive requirements for data networks in the areas of cost, weight, reliability and environmental constraints (from -85 to 105ºC). Earlier POF solutions were limited to a maximum temperature of 85ºC.

“KDPOF’s gigabit POF proposal for the automotive industry was conceived as an Ethernet compatible PHY. This means that it can interface seamlessly with Ethernet MAC layers and support the new paradigm of Ethernet as claimed by well-known organizations like MOST® (Media Oriented Systems Transport) or OPEN,” says the company.

KDPOF is working with companies and organizations like Avago and Hamamatsu, as well as the Open Alliance. Within the latter organization, KDPOF is working to promote gigabit POF as an alternative medium – currently no gigabit technology over UTP is available.

KDPOF gigabit Ethernet technology is, however, available.

“The field of infotainment automotive buses is dominated by standard solutions like LVDS point-to-point links or proprietary technologies like MOST. KDPOF´s solution for MOST enables the future generation of MOST that goes to 1 Gbps,” says the company.

KDPOF says that infotainment systems like Automotive Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are becoming an integral part of the vehicle, with interfaces to many different clusters of electronic systems in the vehicle.

Companies are currently developing optoelectronics for KDPOF technology and for the development of new low-cost and robust connectors for automotive and industrial applications.

KDPOF says that its technology has been developed to approach the Shannon’s limit of SISO communication channels. Features include advanced DSP techniques for non-linear channel equalization, novel capacity approaching multi-level coset coding (MLCC), frame structure for continuous adaptation and tracking, and flexible multi-protocol encapsulation.

Automotive Industries (AI) asked Carlos Pardo, CEO of KDPOF, what the advantages of POF are over other alternatives such as UTP, STP or Coaxial.

Pardo: POF is immune to electrical noise, which is not the case of UTP. POF is cheaper than STP and of a similar cost to Coax. The future evolution of the POF cost is much more predictable than those of copper-based solutions.

POF is basically made of plastic so weight is much lower than any of the other alternatives.

Finally, POF can withstand harsh environments and tolerate, for example, routing across the engine compartment with temperatures as high as 105ºC.

AI: What are some of the features of POF that can be used in rugged applications required by automotive OEMs?

Pardo: Being immune to noise, POF can be installed in electrically noisy environments. Being an optical fiber with a big core, it is able to withstand vibrations and misalignments much better than other optical or copper alternatives.

AI: Tell us a little about the quality and cost benefits of POF.

Pardo: POF systems are not new to the automotive market.

The technology has been around in several communication standards for years now. Names like Flexray, byteflight or MOST are well known in the industry. This ensures a wide market of devices and suppliers that comply with the strict requirements of the industry. POF being a plastic, wide diameter fiber is cheap to manufacture and install as it doesn´t require any special equipment or professional qualifications. Harness manufacturing processes don´t need to be changed with POF.

AI: What technical partnerships does your company have, and how do they work?

Pardo: KDPOF has established engineering collaborations with key leading optoelectronic and connector vendors worldwide to ensure a well supplied and competitive market for all the components needed in the system. Components include PHY, FOT, fiber and connectors. All these companies are excited about the new market opportunities that the gigabit POF technology has opened up. Thanks to this ecosystem of POF companies, customers do not have to worry about assurance of supply or monopolistic market situations.

AI: Why do you think that your technology is particularly suited to automotive applications?

Pardo: The key automotive challenges center around two factors - lowering cost and weight while maintaining reliability. A gigabit solution based on currently qualified and available SI-POF and optoelectronic devices ensures a cost competitive solution to the market with a substantial weight saving to the vehicle. The new technology opens the door to next generation applications and safety features in the car without paying the penalty of an increase in weight, or incurring the cost of alternatives.

AI: What kind of standardization certifications has your company’s technology received – what do they signify?

Pardo: KDPOF´s technology was selected among other alternatives as the basis for the VDE-DKE pre-norm to be published officially in February 2013 (0885-763-1). The European

Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) communications for POF (TS 105 175-1-1) now refers to the VDE-DKE pre-norm, which also implies CENELEC acceptance on their generic cabling norms (50173-1&4). All these standard recognitions help the growth of a competitive gigabit POF market around the new technology where devices can interoperate and users are confident on the future assurance of their investments. Next steps include a wider standardization with well-known institutions like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

AI: What is the status of your project with MOST where KDPOF is offering the POF link for the MOST nG?

Pardo: The MOST Cooperation decision for next generation has chosen to provide two paths. One is aimed at high-end, mid-long term systems where speeds in excess of 3-5 Gbps are needed. Secondly, a 1 Gbps profile based on POF will also be supported. This is where KDPOF´s technology of 1 Gbps adds a great value proposition.

KDPOF´s technology has already been evaluated with very positive feedback from key suppliers like SMSC; carmakers like Jaguar-Land Rover, Volvo, and Audi; and Tier 1 vendors like Harman, Valeo and Delphi. Now, we are one step further, where detailed integration work is being done between SMSC´s iNIC and KDPOF´s PHY. The final objective is to set up a system, which, from OSI layers 2 and above complies with the new MOST nG technology and incorporates KDPOF´s PHY as layer 1. We are confident on the results of this trial and the choice of our technology for the 1 Gbps POF path of the MOST nG.

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