Improving Rail Connectivity in Rural Areas: Lessons from the FRMCS Webinar

Launched in 2025, the new 5G compatible telecommunications standard Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is intended to replace the existing standard, the Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSMR), which is used on most of the networks of the European Union. Railroad system.

The system was at the center of the webinar “How can we ensure efficient FRMCS connectivity in rural areas”, hosted today by the organizing body of the International Railway Summit IRITS.

During the webinar, railway telecommunications stakeholders discussed the best approach to ensure connectivity even in the most remote areas of the continent.

Here is what we learned.

FRMCS will replace obsolete GSM-R and adapt to different scenarios

As Dan Mandoc, director of FRMCS at the International Union of Railways, explains, nearly 70% of European trains are covered by the GSM-R standard, which allows trains to make emergency calls.

“The train is a very heavy thing, traveling at 180 km / h,” Mandoc said. “He cannot steer to the right, he cannot steer to the left, he can only move forward or brake.

“He needs to know what’s going on in front of him about three to five kilometers ahead, and to do all of that he needs a very strong point of service and special abilities to be able to do it, including voice communication, which should work 100%. ”

A 2G system, GSM-R is quickly becoming obsolete as railway telecommunications technology has a different life cycle than other industries, which typically lasts 15 years. Given its 5G nature, FRMCS will enable railway digitization, improving connection and data transmission.

Mandoc said development plans for the FRMCS began in 2010 and will be operational in the first half of 2025. The first step, which began in the second quarter of 2019, revolved around specifying and implementing a plan. migration to switch from GSM-R to FRMCS. .

Regarding migration preferences, Mandoc said, the situation is extremely complex as it is not a national problem but has to be done on a European scale.

“If you want to have interoperability, you need a system that is cost effective and secure, you have to do it at European level, and therefore the system has to adapt to all the needs of EU members, which are very diverse. , “he explained.

The second stage, which is being carried out these days, focuses on prototyping while the third will revolve around the deployment of the technology to coexist with GSM-R from the second half of 2025.

FRMCS should be used very flexibly, especially in rural areas

Connecting trains to the control room is fundamental, but the approach should use multiple radio access technologies for different areas and different railway sections.

“Dispatchers use these connections to communicate with on-board devices,” said Markus Myslivec, Frequentis Public Transport Solutions Manager.

As there is no “one size fits all” approach, several different solutions can be considered. One way to connect the FRMCS is to deploy a gateway that links the technology to its radio access technologies like any other communication system.

“These gateways are no longer boxes but software modules,” he added. “So if you’re already running state-of-the-art infrastructure, that should provide enough processing power for official gateways. ”

Another option is to enable different connections – including GSM-R access, public access, and FRMCS access – and see which one best fits the area and the customer’s needs.

“Always remember that our goal is to keep trains moving while connecting them to various communication and radio access technologies,” Myslivec concluded. “There is no option for everyone; talk to the industry, talk to us and benefit from the experience of other fields to find the right connection for [any given] areas. ”

FRMCS connection will present planning challenges in rural areas

Bringing cost-effective broadband to rural areas is not easy, said the lead inspector of the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, Markku Voutilainen, but it is possible.

“The main solution is to provide commercial and cost-effective broadband service in rural areas, which cover 90% of rail lines in Finland,” he explained.

To achieve a cost-effective solution for both the railways and the public, the industry will face a series of challenges, including FRMCS offering narrowband services for uplinks or how to implement fault tolerance. in high availability communication services.

Other challenges will relate to how to provide broadband services when bandwidth loses capacity as the distance to the base station increases and what to do if the main network fails.

“I don’t know how we are going to solve all these challenges,” concluded Voutilainen. “But with the industry and other stakeholders, I am sure we will find a solution to these challenges using enhanced 5G functionality in the most cost effective manner.”

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