You have to be tough to survive in the automotive industry. You’ve got to be able to take the heat. And you can’t be shaken when business goes cold. So when traditional consumer products like cell phones and others need to make the transition from life in the open air to life under the hood, major complications arise.
Are you getting the message? If you are, it is thanks to Telematics modules using what is known in the M2M (machine to machine communication) Industry as a “ruggedized” module. Telematics, of course, is a rapidly growing automotive technology business. Vehicle phones, fleet management systems, tracking systems and vehicles equipped with GM’s OnStar and similar technologies are among the Telematics applications in use today. And vehicle makers are demanding that these Telematics systems meet increasingly strict quality, performance and reliability criteria. “They are placing the same performance and quality requirements on the module as on any other part of the car, especially for systems involving safety and security,” says Stefan Gudmundsson, Automotive Product Planner for Sony Ericsson’s M2M Communications Unit.
Reliability is critical, Gudmundsson says, for safety and security applications. But fleet management is another demanding segment. Repairs on a truck are very expensive and the Telematics system should be one that can be installed and forgotten. In addition to the temperature extremes to which vehicles and their components are subjected, trucks pose several unique challenges. Chief among them is vibration.
Certain asset management applications, such as equipment monitoring, also place very high demands on ruggedization and quality. For example, Gudmundsson says, “It may be impossible to reach an oil wellhead in Alaska or Siberia for many months of the year, so durability of the devices monitoring such equipment becomes paramount.”
It is not at all trivial to arrive at ruggedized versions of Telematics modules by starting out using the same chip sets found in consumer cell phones that are not usually subjected to such harsh environments. In fact, there are many who doubt that this can be done. Gudmundsson explains that there are several ruggedized products in production today, most of which are from Sony Ericsson. The company’s rugged portfolio includes the CM42, which is in production now, and CM52, which is in the final stages of Type Approval. Both of these are based on CDMA technology. For applications using GSM, the GM41 is in production today and the GA64 is in development.
In addition to Telematics, many other market segments are now starting to use cellular M2M more widely, and are increasingly demanding reliable performance in harsher and harsher environments. Gudmundsson says that all current Sony Ericsson GSM modules have a base ruggedization for the general telemetry segment and are acknowledged by the market as among the most reliable modules on the market today.
“Achieving these quality and performance standards is a core competency of Sony Ericsson,” explains Gudmundsson. The company considers its ruggedization technology to be a significant part of the economic and performance value of its modules where automotive and fleet applications pose the highest demands. As noted, a contributor to that value is the company’s ability to modify standard chipsets used in cell phones. “With relatively small volumes in comparison to the cell phone industry, special development becomes too expensive,”
Gudmundsson explains. “The trick is to work with the chipset vendors and extend the off-the-shelf products they are providing the market. Sony Ericsson has extensive experience in designing M2M modules; we know what to look for and how to select a chipset as a starting point for further work.”
Of course, there is more to a Telematics module than chipsets. There are also memories, passives, oscillators, connectors, power components, RF ICs and other components that together make up the system. The end result comes together when all components match each other perfectly and the supporting software is added. This, Gudmundsson says, is both expensive and time consuming to do, and it definitely poses an entry barrier to anyone lacking Sony Ericsson’s experience in hardening modules.
In achieving its rugged Telematics standards, Sony Ericsson is every bit as diligent with its receiver and transmitter software design as it is with the hardware components. Receiver software helps ensure accuracy over the -40ºC to +85ºC temperature range, while that developed for transmitters maintains repeatable temperature performance and controls the oscillators to obtain an accurate frequency reference.
According to Gudmundsson, “It was the goal of Sony Ericsson to extend the performance of its rugged modules to the -40ºC to +85ºC range and that the user not notice any significant degradation of performance over the full temperature range.” This is well beyond the GSM standard of -10ºC to +55ºC. He adds that those performance goals have, in fact, been achieved. Furthermore, Sony Ericsson has set internal standards that safeguard the function of the module under all company-specified and FCC operating conditions, including temperature extremes that meet or exceed automotive and fleet industry standards.
All automotive products are also subjected to Sony Ericsson’s Safe Launch process – an extended factory test to verify production line quality of new products – and to a daily audit process to verify production line integrity.
Anders Franzén, corporate vice president of M2M communications at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications says that the company is addressing the quality issue on three fronts. Firstly, the company is designing a “fundamentally robust product” – ruggedization – using the quality assurance standards of the automakers. Secondly, it is working with its suppliers to ensure that the components it buys for its Telematics units meet quality and performance requirements. Finally Franzén adds that the Sony Ericsson’s manufacturing partner is QS 9000 certified. As a result, he says that Sony Ericsson “is leading the way in such product capabilities as ability to withstand temperature extremes, vibration and shock. Our quality standards are compatible with those of the automakers.”