Rail Industry Focus

17.09.18

Towards railway-specific, bearer-independent communication

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Freelance transport journalist Lesley Brown looks towards railway-specific, bearer independent communication. 

Today, GSM-R is a well-established technology for carrying voice and data for operations across most railway networks in Europe, as well as many others worldwide. Yet given advances in telecoms and the emergence of needs such as ERTMS (European Rail Traffic Management System) requirements, obsolescence is looming for this 20-year-old standard, particularly in terms of spectrum and capacity.

Different groups are already working to define the future IP-based telecom system for the railways, the so-called Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), under the umbrella of the EU and International Union of Railways (UIC). Nevertheless, migration from the current GSM-R system to its next generation successor is not expected to start before 2028 at the earliest.

But, a current solution for networks needing to upgrade their systems is the ‘bearer independent’ approach to communications, whereby the technical transmission technology (bearer) is separated from railway functional elements (applications).

Who benefits and how?

“By switching to shared networks and non-rail specific bearers, rail operators can use communications networks other than GSM-R, such as GSM, or UMTS for instance, plus those coming in the future,” said Markus Myslivec, head of public transport solutions at Frequentis. “This means greater flexibility in following the technological evolution of such networks, as well as less dependency on one specific communication bearer.”

A first for Finland

In June 2016, the FTA gave Frequentis the ok to implement URCA (Unified Railway Communication and Application), generally considered the first bearer-independent communication solution for rail in Europe. “All the equipment is now installed and roll-out should be completed by the end of 2018,” said Myslivec. “Then the GSM-R will be switched off.”

The FTA had several drivers behind this technology shift. The commercial mobile networks had started to interfere with RAILI, the Finnish GSM-R system, due to increased usage of 3G and 4G broadband radio technologies. In the worst affected areas this led to train drivers, shunting leaders, track maintenance leaders, and traffic control being completely cut off from each other. Secondly, the current GSM-R network equipment was nearing the end of its life cycle.

The end-to-end solution, based on the Frequentis fixed terminal, rail communication system FTS 3020, uses Viranomaisradioverkko (VIRVE), the Finnish authorities' telecommunications network based on TETRA, as well as public mobile networks. It will provide an entirely new set of options beyond GSM-R. The contract further includes voice recording and apps for public mobile phones – overall, ninety fixed working positions will be deployed.

“[This roll-out of URCA] will enable us to significantly reduce our communications costs,” said Markku Voutilainen, senior inspector & project manager, Railway Communications, FTA. “Instead of spending time and money on renewing our own radio network, limited to railway communications, we can concentrate on solutions and applications.”

You can meet Frequentis at Innotrans 2018 in Berlin, Hall 4.1, stand 315.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: 

W: www.frequentis.com/public-transport

Tw: twitter.com/Frequentis

F: www.facebook.com/Frequentis/

Linked-in www.linkedin.com/company/15158/

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