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25.11.14

Network Rail could offer services to telecoms operators

Network Rail seems set to be granted the ‘code powers’ it has applied for from Ofcom to extend its national fibre optic network and offer wholesale services to other telecom operators. 

The FTNx fibre network, which runs alongside the UK’s railways and is overlaid on the FTN, is used to carry a range of voice, video and data traffic for rail operators. 

Last year the Department for Transport (DfT) said that it plans to expand the availability of high-speed mobile broadband access to 70% of commuters across the rail network by 2019. Part of this includes upgrading FTNx. 

Holders of code powers, as set out in section 107(4) of the Communications Act 2003, may construct and maintain infrastructure on public land (streets) without needing to obtain a specific street works licence to do so; benefit from certain immunities from the Town and Country Planning legislation; and apply to the Court in order to obtain rights to execute works on private land in the event that agreement cannot be reached with the owner of that land.

As part of Network Rail’s application it now plans to expand its network and requires code powers to install suitable dark fibre network, conduit and associated assets to locations outside of its existing land and infrastructure. 

The company added that this this will enable it to deliver and operate a high-speed, high-capacity national electronic fibre optical network infrastructure to transmit a variety of network and IP services to new geographic areas outside of its existing network footprint. 

A Network Rail spokesperson added that the company is engaged in a programme to understand how best its assets can be used to provide benefit and value to users of the railway and the UK as whole. 

“Our strategy is not finalised and remains subject to both DfT and ORR approval,” he said. “Our application for code powers (initiated in March 2014) reflects a recognition that under a number of potential scenarios, code powers could facilitate the delivery of potential services and therefore bring benefit faster to the railway and the public.” 

In the ‘Proposal to apply Code Powers to Network Rail Infrastructure Limited’ document, Ofcom stated: “The Applicant has confirmed that it intends that its electronic communications network and system of conduits will be used to improve mobile connectivity along the rail corridor and that it will offer wholesale services to other telecom operators. 

“It has explained that its planned network expansion would enable it to deliver and operate a high speed, high capacity national electronic fibre optical network infrastructure to transmit a variety of network and IP services to new geographic areas outside of its existing network footprint. Due to the coverage of the Applicant’s network, it has explained that this will serve to benefit the public as a whole as it is likely to increase competition in the provision of various broadband and telecom services in the future. 

“For these reasons, Ofcom considers that granting the Applicant code powers would benefit the public.” 

A consultation for stakeholders and the public on Ofcom’s recommendation runs until 22 December 2014. Ofcom will publish a statement after this. 

RTM reported in April on the announcement by Network Rail’s Craig Ellis that the wireless FTNx network would be rolled out over the course of this year. 

In Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for CP5, it explained the project like this: “Network Rail Telecom (NRT) owns and manages the national telecoms assets of Network Rail. Unlike the devolved route assets, telecoms assets are managed nationally as a single coherent network. NRT is tasked with delivering the current and future operational telecoms requirements of the railway, driving efficiencies and delivering additional value from these assets by extending the offerings to rail partners and optionally third parties. 

“Our vision is provide carrier class services to Network Rail and the wider rail industry as data volumes grow and become increasingly mobile. Building on that base we’ll extend our CNI capable network externally to become a significant player in the UK communications. 

“Network Rail’s key strength is an extensive telecoms network trusted to run one of the most critical national infrastructures in the UK. NRT will extend this network with FTNx (a next generation network) and high speed mobile data and use these to consolidate the rail industries growing data requirements and remove dependencies on third parties. Once the rail industry is fully served, consideration will be given to external fixed data services, exploiting our resilience and security. 

“NRT needs to deliver 4G mobile data services for future train operational needs, ORBIS trackside applications and passenger wi-fi. Our strategy is to partner with one or more partners, using their spectrum and our physical masts and backhaul assets to build this network at least cost to Network Rail. This in turn will drive value added service provision and help meet strategic themes. 

“NRT currently delivers services via Layer 0 in the diagram below – Using the existing low capacity FTN network and 3rd party services from BT and Level 3 to run the railway. Layer 1A is the first step in extending the network to support future rail operational needs.

FTNx – a new high speed network overlaid on FTN – will support data hungry services (SCADA, TM, ROCs, Corporate Voice and DATA) and high definition CCTV while allowing NRT to migrate from third party suppliers and bring down provision costs.

Using FTNx, layer 1B services will be extended to the rail family along the rail corridor – connecting TOC stations, depots and switching centres to more efficiently run the railway. Consideration will be given to full utilise strategic partnerships Layers 2 and 3 will extend FTNx and mobile services beyond the rail corridor to run our rail family corporate functions and have potential to support CNI networks such as the British Transport Police. Finally, Layer 4 services will be considered proving traditional wholesale and enterprise data services and supporting UK PLC through rural broadband initiatives etc.” 

557 diagram

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