As infotainment systems continue to proliferate and emerging consumer technologies make their way into vehicles, auto makers will need faster, higher-capacity electronics networks to transmit data between devices.

Semiconductor supplier SMSC, based in Hauppauge, NY, is answering that call with its new MOST150 intelligent network interface controller (dubbed the OS81110) that ups the processing power ante to 150 megabits per second, triple the speed of its second-generation MOST50 INIC now seeing application.

As its name implies, SMSC’s INIC uses the MOST (Media Oriented Systems Transport) networking protocol, designed to allow onboard infotainment systems to talk to each other while reducing the amount of wiring required to connect various devices.

The protocol originated in 1998 in Europe through a consortium of companies now numbering 15 car makers and 75 automotive suppliers. It debuted in 2001 on the BMW 7-Series and currently is entering a new stage in its global rollout.

“The third (application) wave is beginning with higher-volume car makers in Europe and other parts of the world,” says Henry Muyshondt, SMSC’s senior director of business development-Auto Infotainment Group.

The industry will see wider use of the technology beginning 2010-2012, he predicts, with applications beginning to pick up in the U.S. after that.

Already MOST is used on 50 car platforms currently on the road, including virtually every BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz model.

The second application wave hit over the last couple of years, as the technology was adopted by Asian auto makers.

In September, SMSC began shipping its MOST50 controller to Toyota Motor Corp. suppliers. “Hyundai (Motor Co. Ltd.) and Kia (Motors Corp.) are very active in the (MOST) cooperation,” Muyshondt says, adding some Chinese manufacturers are set to employ the technology in the next year.

The new MOST150 controller will allow auto makers to accommodate the growing numbers of cameras employed for such purposes as blind-spot detection and keep pace with developments in consumer electronics, such as high-definition video and multi-channel surround sound that require higher-speed, higher-capacity communications networks.

“Auto design cycles are three to six years for new platforms,” Muyshondt points out. “High-definition video is now just coming into the consumer space and will be mainstream three or four years from now. Car makers are trying to plan ahead.”

Several auto companies already have completed testing on the new chips and are slotting them into their design cycles, he says, adding MOST150 will start to show up in new vehicles “in the next couple of years.”

The big advantage of the MOST architecture is its ability to route information between devices over a single wire. Initially, most European MOST applications incorporated fiber-optic wiring, allowing auto makers to eliminate problems caused by electro-magnetic interference. Using fiber optics also cuts down on re-engineering activity, because even as chip speeds increase over the life of a vehicle platform, the basic design of the network can remain intact.

But switching to fiber optics also requires changes in the manufacturing process and tasks dealership service technicians with mastering a new technology. So higher-volume car makers pressed to retain copper wiring, and SMSC’s controllers now are capable of working with either architecture, paving the way for MOST’s entry into higher-volume vehicle lines.

Whether run along copper or fiber optics, the MOST protocol gives auto engineers more design flexibility, because components no longer must be packaged close together to eliminate wire harness complexity. An audio amplifier, for instance, can be located at the rear of the car, with a single wire, rather than five or six, connecting it to the radio head unit in the dash.

The MOST network presents a “stable backbone,” Muyshondt says. “It is a very robust system, and you don’t have to change anything, for instance, to add capability for the latest iPod. It allows auto makers to more easily manage a platform’s lifecycle.”

SMSC also produces USB- and Internet-related products, so its MOST INICs feature a range of connectivity possibilities, including USB and Ethernet ports, making it easier to upload new software or link with diagnostic devices in the service department.

Cost is competitive and normally comes down as the chips roll out to the market, Muyshondt contends. Typically, early releases are flash-based chips that allow programming to be changed on the fly. But once rolling, auto makers can switch to a less-expensive design with read-only memory capability.

In addition, there are potential cost and weight savings in switching to MOST. In one application, Mercedes reduced the number of cables from six to four, cut wire harness weight 93% and slashed cable costs by more than half.

SMSC and co-developer Harman/Becker Automotive Systems are making the technology for their proprietary Data Link Layer for existing and future generations of MOST available to other semiconductor manufacturers through licensing arrangements in an attempt to broaden availability and applications while further reducing end-user costs, a move roundly applauded by auto maker members of the MOST cooperative.

SMSC also offers its less expensive “INIC eLITE” controllers aimed at U.S. auto makers. The eLITE controller’s more limited functionality is compatible with most U.S. vehicles, which currently tend to be equipped with less infotainment capability than their European counterparts.

“When it came to antilock brakes, the technology started with the European luxury car makers, then advanced to the Japanese five to 10 years later; and five to 10 years after that the U.S. got into the game,” Muyshondt says. “I see the same thing happening with MOST.”

dzoia@wardsauto.com