DETROIT – MOST is headed this way.

The Media Oriented Systems Transport networking protocol, which has worked its way into mostly high-end cars from European-based auto makers over the last five years, is starting to gain traction in Asia and eventually could be in wider use in North America, a key supplier says.

Designed to allow onboard infotainment systems to talk to each other, while reducing the amount of wiring needed to connect devices such as DVD players, radios and navigation systems, the MOST operating standard now is in place on 38 vehicle platforms (soon to be 40), say officials from Hauppauge, NY-based SMSC, an exhibitor at Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference here.

MOST was developed by a consortium of companies, beginning in 1998 with OASIS (since purchased by SMSC), DaimlerChrysler AG, BMW AG, Audi AG and Harman/Becker Automotive Systems GmbH. It since has expanded to include 16 auto makers and more than 70 suppliers.

Its first application was in the BMW 7-Series in 2001, but the migration into mid-range vehicles is growing and the list of cars now employing the protocol includes some low-end models such as DC’s Smart and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.’s Colt.

Other vehicles with MOST networks include Mercedes A-, C-, E- and S-Class cars; the Porsche Boxster and 911; Peugeot 807/Citroen C8; Fiat Ulysse; and Land Rover Discovery.

In using MOST in one of its platforms, DC was able to reduce the number of cables from six to four, cut cable length by 25% to 29.5 ft. (9 m) and eliminate two of every three conductors per cable, SMSC says. It also trimmed the number of contacts from 36 to eight and reduced harness weight from 60 oz. (1,700 g) to just 4.3 oz. (123 g).

As importantly, cable costs were slashed more than half.

Initially, the MOST networking standard was designed to work with plastic optical fiber, in part to eliminate electromagnetic interference (EMI) issues, but also because of its lighter weight and ease of recycling – a critical factor in Europe, where automotive recycling laws are on the books.

But using plastic optical fiber requires wiring harnesses to be assembled differently, and that may have caused some auto makers to shy away from the technology.

However, earlier this year, working under the direction of Toyota Motor Corp., the MOST consortium developed a way to substitute inexpensive and easy-to-handle unshielded copper wire in place of optical fiber, allowing auto makers to employ MOST while maintaining existing production methodologies.

Either way is about equally cost-effective, says Henry Muyshondt, senior director-business development, with the price of optical connectors having come down from $30 apiece to $5 over the past few years.

“It just depends on the manufacturer, whether it wants to change the way the harness is assembled or whether it wants to deal with EMI issues (presented by the use of copper),” he says.

MOST now appears to be working its way into Asia, where it is beginning to be embraced by Japanese and South Korean auto makers, SMSC says, with Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and Kia Motors Corp. joining Toyota and Honda Motor Co. Ltd. as OE members of the consortium.

Typically, electronic applications appear first in European high-end vehicles, migrate to Asia within about five years and move on to North America another five years later. And MOST appears to be heading down that same time line, Muyshondt says.

Both DC and Ford Motor Co. are members of the consortium, but Ford uses MOST only on its European luxury brands, such as Jaguar and Land Rover. DC’s focus has been predominantly with Mercedes, though Muyshondt says there are elements of MOST used on the Dodge Ram pickup.

General Motors Corp. is not a member of the consortium.

Although there are other semiconductor producers involved in the consortium, SMSC officials believe their company is well positioned in the transition to MOST because of its expertise in both Ethernet- and USB-based network connectors that is allowing it to “cross-pollinate” the personal computer and automotive sectors.

In automotive, Ethernet connectors typically are used to link the car to personal computers for software downloads and to perform diagnostic operations at dealerships and repair centers, while USB connectivity is becoming increasingly important in the sector as consumers look to bring more and more personal media devices such as MP3 players into their automobiles.

In addition, SMSC produces MOST Intelligent Network Interface Controllers (INIC) available with the company’s MediaLB communication technology that acts as a ready-made interface between the MOST network and consumer electronic devices.

Its MOST50 INIC released earlier this year makes the use of a copper-wire infrastructure possible and doubles the bandwidth offered by its MOST25-based connectors to 50 megabit/second in order to handle video-intensive applications, the company says.

Consumer and infotainment electronics now accounts for 39% of SMSC’s revenues, up from 36% year-ago, with about half of that derived from the auto sector.

Business opportunities abound, Muyshondt says, because although MOST is gaining traction, it currently is used on only 6% of the world’s auto production.

“There’s a lot of room to grow,” he says.