Fiber optic data transmission – a prerequisite for future on-board networks?

Interview with Helmut Pritz about the advantages and possibilities of fiber optic data transmission in the automotive sector, transmission rates up to 100Gbps, and innovative projects on the topic of “fiber optics” at MD.

 “In my view, with data transmission rates of 25 Gbps and higher, fiber optic data transmission will be used more and more as of 2028.”

Tech Talk is a series of interviews that introduce you to some inspiring personalities within and outside of MD as well as to the world of technology, innovation, and more. In this edition, we spoke to Helmut Pritz, Technical Product Manager at MD. We talked about his job, the physical limits of electrical data transmission in vehicles and the benefits of fiber optic solutions.

Helmut, please tell me a little bit about yourself. What inspires you most about your job?

My name is Helmut, I’m 53 years old, and the father of four adult children. I started at MD in 2013, have held various positions, and am now responsible for the fiber optic data transmission sector as Technical Product Manager. The possibility to influence the development of new transmission systems and make direct contact with customers are what make my job so attractive to me. In my spare time, I am the volunteer leader of a ski club and I like “old timer” vehicles.

Many thanks Helmut! Now let’s talk about your product sector, fiber optic data transmission. In your opinion, is fiber optic or electric the best solution for data transmission above 10 Gbps in vehicles?

This is truly a difficult question. Like everything in life, both systems have advantages and disadvantages. In my opinion, there is room for both since each one is predestined for particular uses in vehicles. For example, electric data transfer is very useful in areas with few electromagnetic disturbances with only a few additional measures. However, if you use this technology in areas with a lot of electromagnetic disturbances, the work required to prepare the signals increases exponentially. This is where fiber optic data transmission provides essential advantages since it is not subject to electromagnetic disturbance.

Will fiber optic data transmission solve the physical problems of electrical data transfer in vehicles?

Fiber optic data transmission is not new to the automotive industry. It has been around for more than 20 years. Due to its big EMC advantage, it has been used for secure applications and infotainment systems in the past. The shortcoming of the previous technology was that it was not robust enough, it was too big and also expensive.

An essential problem of electric data transmission is that it is subject to electromagnetic disturbances, which increase with the increasing electrification of vehicles and higher data rates. To counteract these influences, electronic modules are used to prepare signals so that the signals received can actually be read. Building blocks such as equalizers, common mode chokes, and EMC filters are used for this.

Another problem is that the transmission frequency must increase with increasing data rates, and therefore signal damping in cables and plug connectors increases exponentially. This requires a redesign of plug connectors and cable assemblies to minimize the damping. This, in turn, means that geometries must be enlarged to create better conditions. Examinations by IEEE802.3cz have shown that at about 25 Gbps the physical limit is reached at reasonable costs.

Since all of these measures involve more costs, an alternative must be created. Fiber optic data transmission is in a position to solve all these technical problems, but it is not currently available for the automobile industry.

Where, in your opinion, are the challenges for the integration of fiber optic data transmission into vehicles?

As with all new technologies, OEMs tend to be skeptical at the start as the introduction of new systems is regarded as a risk. In addition, earlier fiber optic data transmission technology MOST-Bus (Media Oriented Systems Transport) made a bad impression on the OEMs as it was not an optimal system for the automobile world at the time. There were also quality problems here, which were not necessarily due to the technology but also made it unpopular.

Therefore, one of the most important challenges is to build trust in the new technology, and in the next step, to implement this technology into the next generation of on-board networks. Furthermore, system suppliers must be employed as drivers of the technology, for they need to know how to incorporate fiber optic cables into cable harnesses and be familiar with fiber optic PCB headers. In addition, it is important that all of these companies incorporate the physical layer into the standardization in order to ensure seamless integration into on-board automotive networks.

What are the main advantages of fiber optic data transmission in on-board networks?

In my opinion, the main advantage of fiber optic data transmission is its flexibility. Using the same hardware, I can transmit data rates of 1 Gbps or 100Gbps and more without having to change anything on the control unit or the cable side. Another significant plus is that this technology is completely resistant to EMC and also enables galvanic separation. One more big issue is that in the future, the demand for copper will increase sharply, but resources will be in shorter supply. Thus, fiber optic data transmission will also relieve an emerging resource problem.

If you listen to skeptics with regard to robustness, you have to add that the OM3 fibers that are used in data center technology today are already delivering trigger values above 200N and bending radius of less than 7.5mm are possible. Thus, robustness is not an issue for future systems.

What next steps are necessary for bringing this technology into vehicles?

From my point of view, the most important steps are the forcing of standardization, promotion of the technology to OEMs, and intensive cooperation with the chip manufacturers and tier 1s in order to give this technology credibility.

What is MD doing to prepare itself?

This is an important point. MD ELEKTRONIK has worked on fiber optic data transmission for more than 20 years; since 2020, on fiber optic Ethernet technology. What initially started as an innovation project then became the first fiber optic plug system for Gigabit Ethernet. This product is being discussed and tested with various OEMs and tier 1s. There is also currently another innovation project to develop the next generation for the multigigabit range. In order to consider the development of necessary requirements, MD has also worked with appropriate committees such as IEEE802.3cz that grapple with the specification of data rates up to 100 Gpbs.

Helmut, many thanks for this very interesting conversation!

Fiber optic data transmission as a building block for the on-board networks of tomorrow

The limits of electric data transmission in vehicles have been reached whereas fiber optic solutions are in the starting blocks. In addition to data rates that are up to four times as high and more flexible, fiber optic solutions are not subject to electromagnetic disturbance and they consume fewer resources. Earlier weaknesses with regard to robustness have been eliminated so now the focus should be on promoting this new technology and establishing it as a market standard. Contact MD to find out more about the data transmission of the future!

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Helmut Pritz

Helmut Pritz is the Product Manager for fiber optic data transmission at MD Elektronik. With over 20 years’ experience in the sector, he has a great deal of expertise to offer in promoting this future-oriented technology. It is his mission to develop innovative solutions for the automotive industry with customers, startups, control unit manufacturers and suppliers.

After working as a project manager where he was responsible for developing plug-in components and the associated automation systems, he then took on the role of Manager Development RF Technology and built up a development department which was mainly concerned with high-frequency technology.

The wide range of contacts he has with customers, suppliers and the global team at MD is one of the things he most appreciates about his role.