Tuesday 23 May 2017

3rd World Conference on Rail Telecoms: from GSM-R to FRMCS held from 17 – 18 May 2017 in Paris

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UIC in cooperation with the Railway Operational Communications-Industry Group (ROC-IG, formerly GSMR-IG) organised the Third World Conference on Rail Telecoms, at Paris UIC Headquarters on 17-18 May 2017. The interest was as strong as for the earlier editions with 175 participants from different companies/organisations, and 10 exhibitors: Comtest Wireless, Cybertel, Expandium, Frequentis, Funkwerk, Iskratel, Kapsch Nokia, Siemens and ZTE. The Conference sponsors included TrioRail, Alstom and ROC-IG.

This year’s conference focused on the GSM-R current technology and its future evolution which is in full development under the UIC project called the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) and notably the possible migration scenarios for its successful achievement.

In his opening speech Mr Jean-Pierre Loubinoux underlined that UIC is fully determined to pursue the success story starting with the introduction of GSM-R as the common bearer for all rail applications. Main technical challenges are at present directed towards the roadmap for evolution and strategy for the future of Rail Telecoms. UIC is again leading this evolution and bearing in mind that GSM-R was born in Europe but is largely adopted worldwide, the development for the New Generation of Railway Radio system is managed via a worldwide approach.

For the setting of the new Radio system, UIC and especially the Rail System Department directly support the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA), in particular for all what is needed to guarantee the radio bearer for ERTMS Level 2 as well as for the well emerging new Level 3. The FRMCS “Users Requirements Specification” is available and downloadable through the UIC website. The work at UIC on FRMCS is being pursued on aspects of Functionality, Architecture and Technology and Spectrum.

The scene was set furthermore by Mr Carlo De Grandis, Policy Officer, EC DG Move, Josef Doppelbauer, Executive Director, ERA, Luis Jorge Romero, Director General, ETSI, Jean-Marc Charoud, Head of the RATP engineering division, UITP and Thomas Karl, Public Transport Division Director, Frequentis-ROC IG.

During eight sessions, railways and other stakeholders had the opportunity to freely exchange their experiences and share their vision for the future of the system.
The FRMCS UIC Global project was presented and included a detailed plan from the standardisation within ETSI/3GPP to the Testing plan, the proof of Concept trials and equipment availability. FRMCS Bearer flexibility was presented in detail.
Industry developed the concept of application centric future network architecture combined with On-board radio evolution & operational applications with future proofed HMIs.

An important aspect for the transition towards FRMCS is to develop cost effective solutions. Interesting new concepts were proposed, like heterogeneous infrastructure for FRMCS with “Dedicated macrocell
Layer reusing existing GSM-R masts on UIC frequency bands for high-priority applications combined with Shared pico-cell layer taking benefit of future passenger-oriented deployment by Telecom operators for business applications along railways tracks.

Particularly awaited was the presentation on the latest evolutions of Mobile Telecommunications in China. Specific stress concepts have been: adaptability of LTE communications to high speed rail, with maintenance of high throughput up to 350Km/h, Frequency under 1GHz are a must for better propagation, 450MHz is the focus of current research. Their Next Generation China Rail Working Group now accounts for more than 40 members.

Another interesting concept proposed was the Bearer Flexible Network Architecture, and different principles for sharing parts of the networks for smooth migration. Many sharing possibilities were presented: shared infrastructure, shared technology or shared spectrum: all can contribute to lower CAPEX and OPEX. Convergences could be developed between rail telecom services and blue light services, now using different networks, they could easily use i.e. share the same network in the future.
The challenges are that preconditions should be available, different users’ needs, shared environment requires care and experience on best practices to enable successful combination is needed. Technical experiences from Labs are very promising, but still political high level decisions are needed.

Cyber security has been an important driver of discussion, all agreed on the need to guarantee the right (i.e. high enough) level of security in all the mission critical applications, looking to alternative solutions, possibly embedded in the technology.
Cyber Security is the new challenge for any future development. CYRAIL, a project coordinated by EVOLEO Technologies, in the framework of Shift2Rail was also presented. UIC has a significant role in this, together with many other players. Threats analysis, attack detection and early warning combined with mitigation techniques and protection profiles is the main goal of CYRAIL.

Shift2Rail was presented as well. The main targets of Shift2Rail are to avoid the fragmentation of the EU research and to support the market development. To “Respect the current Target System Specifications (TSI)” and “Door to Door” Journey concept were explained. Shift2Rail will be contributing to the future radio system via the Technical demonstrators 2nd Pillar on Smart-Radio – Connected Wayside Object Controllers, Adaptable Communications for all Railways and Cybersecurity.

Application of formal methods and definition of standard interfaces was also on the programme. Shift2Rail needs help from everyone involved in the research. Sharing networks between critical users is also recognised as a visionary future target.
A conceptual shift from “Network as Asset” to “Network as Service (provider)” was also proposed and strongly debated. Situations in Europe are quite different from one country to another, a dedicated network for Critical Users will be technically possible, but conditions to finally use it still must be defined. Common understanding about the Public Mobile Network Operators (i.e. MNOs) is that they are and will not be suitable for Safety Critical Applications.

Legal framework in EU was described with the transition of Chapter 7 on CCS-TSI being the most relevant part. Details on the ongoing development for the evolution of mobile devices were provided, stressing the need to save the already completed investments, from well over 1 b€ for rolling stock only. A proposal to ERA to consider the endorsement of FRMCS URS within the Operational Harmonisation WG was questioned.

The strategic vision of Railways Representative bodies on how to evolve towards the new Frequency Spectrum Sharing was presented, also referring to the 200 year-long history of telecoms within railways. Using the 873-876 Coupled with 918-921 MHz EGSM-R band is clearly presented as the most preferred option.

An interesting question came from the attendees “How getting the required spectrum and which could be the possible worst-case scenarios?” Each railway is invited to refer and liaise with their national frequency regulators, the only real authorities that can answer the railways’ needs on spectrum. On the other hand, a very important request for the railway sector to further participate in the new CEPT_ECC-FM56 WG where Railway specific migration needs are addressed was stressed.

Special focus on security was provided with even some specific reserved information just to the conference room. Encryption algorithm A5/1 used mostly by GSM-R operators has been hacked and is no longer secure. Much stronger encryption algorithms are available such as A5/3 and now A5/4 and could be used. EU Directives have also foreseen by 2018 accountability of operators and guarantee of privacy by design. GSM-R current applications need to move towards better Algorithms than A5/1 (short term urgent action).

An interesting option to counter act cyberattacks was also provided and very appreciated by attendees: the use of the Europe wide HERMES VPN and related services, supplied by British Telecoms, with Internet as just additional backbone. The use of special protocol MPLS is the core of Hermes VPN security. So far, it was mentioned that no security related access have been recorded. The close network approach will be kept in future too, as it has intrinsic advantages.

It was reiterated that 100% protection is not possible. The combination between the capability to perform an attack and to really do it must be considered carefully.

Finally, information on the GSM-R context during the terrorist attacks in Bruxelles was provided, where the most difficult problem was having access to an operating structure. All public networks as well as Astrid Network (TETRA based) were saturated. The GSM-R network was the only network in operation so that a specific frequency band for rail is the only effective solution. At the London bombing they switched off the network immediately. It should be noted that law enforcement against jammers impacting the GNSS based operating systems are not very effective.

At the closing session migration was dealt with in-depth, as well as the possible scenarios.
It is probably too early to address the final technology. Any suitable bearer could be used, depending on the actual railway requirements. The key element that will lead migration will be the mobile equipment; “Safety & Security by design” is recognised as a must have for any future implementation. In terms of which data will have to be transmitted, a reflection is proposed to keep services separated and limit the amount of data to the meaningful ones, like for Video streaming from the first vehicle: it’s better to stay onboard and detect threats locally by automatic devices.
The introduction of new mobile radio modules, adding FRMCS modules, is seen as a key streamline opportunity to manage the migration.

“How to secure the railway operation in a future where all IP-Networks will be the normal approach”. Suggestions are proposed on the level of internal organisation of the company. Including Cyber Security in the legal framework is not seen as essential. Security must be in our DNA.

In his closing speech Mr Marc Antoni, Director of the Rail System Department underlined that three major points should be retained from the conference:

  • Flexibility in the Migration all along the foreseen period of more than 15 years
  • Guarantee the Cyber Security for safety critical applications
  • Keep the unicity of frequency for FRMCS in Europe and preferably at world level

During the final traditional prize draw, gifts were presented to five lucky participants by Triorail and UIC.

For further information please contact Marc Antoni:


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