Vehicle Telematics System and Antenna Design for Multiband RF Communication

Modern vehicle telematics systems carry RF front-end and high compute requirements to operate in multiple bands with robust antenna designs.

31 August 2021

Emerging technologies in the automotive industry and the ease of connecting new devices to the cloud are turning modern vehicles into mobile IoT products. As mobile products that must interact with the cloud, GPS/GNSS, cellular networks, and even other vehicles, new vehicles need to use Various wireless communication protocols. These range from low data rate Sub-1 GHz protocols for long-range communication to ISM band solutions like Bluetooth and WIFI, and eventually high data rate 5G protocols. These protocols have to connect systems within a vehicle (e.g., a wireless BMS in an EV and ECUs) and outside a vehicle (e.g., upcoming V2X networking).

Telematics systems are one class of products that must receive data from multiple sources inside and outside the vehicle. The use of telematics systems in commercial fleets has been increasing since 2020, and it is projected to continue increasing as more fleets become semi or fully autonomous. These systems need wireless connectivity that is enabled by an RF front-end design and robust antenna solutions. The right electronics manufacturer can help ensure your antenna design and RF front-end in your telematics system layout will enable low-noise, low-EMI operation with required RF performance in the desired bands.

The RF Antenna Design Process for Vehicle Telematics

When beginning a new vehicle telematics design, the RF section should be approached while considering the required communication bands used in the system. For example, data could be supplied by an ECU with an external antenna. It could have an onboard antenna for in-vehicle networking or a combination of options. OEMs typically prefer working in licensed bands with standardized protocols as the solution is easier to scale, and design is aided by a wealth of off-the-shelf components from multiple manufacturers.

The best antenna designs for vehicle telematics will be multimodal, allowing communication in multiple bands simultaneously. The available standardized protocols needed in a vehicle telematics system will vary geographically so that antenna designs may vary accordingly. Typical wireless protocols required in a vehicle telematics system include, but are not limited to:

  • 2.4 GHz WIFI, Bluetooth, or other ISM-band protocol for shorter range networking, including in-vehicle networking

  • IEEE 802.11p-compliant WLAN protocol supporting DSRC and AODV for V2X/VANETs

  • GPS, GNSS, GLONASS, or other satellite navigation protocol

  • Sub-1 GHz protocols (e.g., LoRaWAN or ZigBee) for longer-range communication

Protocols should be chosen to ensure the system can transmit required data to the cloud, emergency service providers, other vehicles, the user’s smartphone, a web server, or anything else that requires the vehicle’s usage and location data. Other data to be collected by the vehicle and transmitted to a base station or cloud platform includes vehicular maintenance data, fuel or battery usage data, tracking location, driver performance data, and even video data. These systems' compute, bandwidth, and uptime requirements can be very high, particularly when we consider the wealth of data required to enable autonomous commercial fleet management.

Once the required protocols are determined and matched to use case scenarios, design of the RF front-end and processing blocks can begin. This involves selecting several key components, beginning application development, and designing the RF front-end and antenna to support a fully integrated, multimodal RF-capable vehicle telematics system. The design team also needs to consider whether active vs. passive antennas will be used to provide the required output power and input sensitivity during operation.

Processor Selection Aids RF Capabilities

Depending on the main host controller for the system, one of the RF protocols might be built into the system’s front end. Bluetooth-enabled, WIFI-enabled, and Sub-1 GHz MCUs are available on the market, and these components will have the required front-end integrated onto the component die. This reduces the burden on multimodal antenna design, transceiver selection, and a multiplexing method to enable communication in multiple bands with a compact RF front-end. Selecting the right processor vendor can also help expedite application development as embedded developers can leverage vendor development tools, libraries, and design examples.

The Role of Application Development

Due to the presence of multiple protocols sharing a multimodal antenna design, or possibly coexisting in multiple antennas, the device application can play a role in enabling multiplexing. The simplest form of multiplexing is time-division multiplexing, where the host processor cues data transmission in different protocols in different time windows. Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing is a popular technique for wideband multicarrier wireless communication, and this can be enabled with transceiver design on standard transceivers, or even a fully custom design with an FPGA. Unique antenna designs that enable spatial multiplexing are possible, although this requires a more complex front-end with filtering and switching to route signals to transceiver elements in the RF front-end.

The application developed to support the design will need to manage data transmission and reception within the limits of the available multiplexing method used in the design. This puts more importance on antenna design to ensure all protocols can be accessed with as few antennas as possible, and with as small a package as possible.

How Your Electronics Manufacturer Can Aid Telematics Antenna Design

An experienced electronics manufacturer can provide design and testing services when designing telematics systems, including the RF front-end in these systems. Unique multimodal antenna designs require accurate simulation and testing to ensure performance metrics are met, including for active antenna designs operating in multiple bands. Unique emitter designs can require the design of a test board with required fixtures to ensure signal integrity metrics are met during operation.

The right partner can work closely with a telematics design team to aid in systems design tasks, design for testability, and application development. In addition, an EMS partner can ensure your RF antenna design will be manufacturable with high yield and help you make the transition through proof-of-concept to prototype and full-scale production.

OEMs that want to bring their vehicle telematics solutions to market should partner with an experienced EMS provider that understands the automotive electronics landscape. We have more than 30 years of EMS experience focused on consumer goods, industrial, automotive, and medical devices, as well as in Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) and box builds. Our Lean Six Sigma manufacturing expertise enables us to customize our manufacturing line to meet our partners’ requirements.

We provide our partners with high-quality products at lower manufacturing costs thanks to our shorter change-over time and leaner material control. If needed, we provide our customers the flexibility needed to quickly scale production as needs arise. Contact PCI today to learn more about our capabilities.

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