Telecommunications have become an important part of any economic activity, and the railways are no exception.
Through nationally integrated communications, information systems are built, from railway stations to core management servers. National railway telecommunications networks are interconnected, and via transit routes a wide European network is under construction.
Radio systems have evolved from analogue to digital telecommunication systems, offering seamless connectivity and functionalities, improving operations. In terms of signalling, telecoms have introduced a new level of signalling excellence meeting very strong demands, where a reliable communications layer is essential for the very precise transmission of train movement authorisations, based on location update.
Railways generally use off the shelf technologies for telecommunication systems, adding applications to meet specific services and quality demands, which is the case e.g. for dispatcher systems or wireless systems, using standard technology with tailored configurations. To obtain the required result of properly functioning modified technology, railways must work together to agree on a set of basic concepts, which then need to be introduced as a standards, norms or specifications.
GSM-R is a successful example of this process: in around 1992-5, railways selected a technology which was readily available on the market – GSM. Today, more than 60,000 km of line is equipped and operates with this technology and more than 43,000 Cab Radios and EDORs are activated.
When using a standard technology similar to public telecoms operators, it is vital to monitor technological trends, and constantly keep up to avoid a system becoming obsolete and no longer supported.
GSM-R is based on the GSM Standard, and today GSM is predicted to reach the end of its lifecycle in around 2020; the GSM-R Industry Group has committed to support GSM-R until 2025.
This underpins the fact that mobile telecommunications world intends to migrate existing technologies towards the Long Term Evolution (LTE) – a broadband technology, and existing vision for wireless technologies future relies on IP & broadband.
UIC has carried out activities since 2009 on the subject triggered by the predictable GSM End of Life, since the choice of radio technology in Europe is a choice harmonised among the railways and of European legislation, via the CCS TSI, which today designates GSM-R as the European digital radio needed to fulfil the needs of ETCS L2 and beyond.
A Technical Report on new broadband technology capabilities when used for railway operational needs was released in 2009, and as a number of issues were raised – railway specific features fulfilment, mobility conditions, life cycle, needed spectrum, etc. – in December 2012 Technology Free User Requirement Specification version 1.0 was released, as a basis for discussions with manufacturers.
Based on GSM-R experience, after a choice is made for the solution (spectrum, technology, concept, architecture, etc.) in Europe that will replace it at a certain time, a research, testing and standardisation period of around 5 years would be needed, which is based on existing experience and European experts platform (cooperation with “Blue Light” and out of Europe experience is also envisaged).
Therefore, a decision at European level must be made in the next few years, after which the above described work can be started.
To reach this decision point UIC organised a workshop on this subject, which took place on 4 October 2012, in Paris, UIC HQ.
The meeting was attended by 35 UIC member specialists from Europe, Japan and Korea, as well manufacturer representatives.
After discussing the points of view of the manufacturers, users and standardisation representatives on the current status of GSM, GSM-R and broadband technologies trend, as well as UIC’s approach to join the Critical Communications Association and the Critical Communication Broadband Group (proposal endorsed by ERIG), to enlarge the users of a possible common solution platform, UIC proposed a Project approach, scheduled to start in 2014, to follow up all activities on this subject.
The proposal was received positively by the participants, and promised to be actively supported also by the manufacturers present. The need for even a 2013 – early start was supported by some of the participants, and administrative solutions shall be discussed within UIC to reach that.
The action shall be followed later, and presented at the next ERIG (European Railways Radio Implementers Group) meeting for Project Sheet and technical concept approval as well as being approved by UIC bodies as a standalone (2013) 2014 – 2016 Project.