Towards railway-specific
bearer independent communication

Over recent years, the railways have realised that placing sole reliance on a single radio platform for their voice and data needs is not the best of approaches. Essentially because it creates dependency on one single technology, one single platform, and results in deeply integrated yet inflexible services. Railway-specific, bearer independent communication offers an appealing alternative already adopted by the Finnish Transport Agency (FTA).

Today, GSM-R is a well-established 2G 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 European Union (EU) and International Union of Railways (UIC).

Nevertheless, migration from the current GSM-R system to its next-generation successor is expected to start in 2022.

In the meantime, one solution for networks needing to upgrade their systems today is the ‘bearer independent’ approach to communications, whereby the technical transmission technology (bearer) is separated from railway functional elements (applications).
Nevertheless, migration from the current GSM-R system to its next-generation successor is expected to start in 2022.

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, UMTS or LTE for instance, plus those coming in the future,” said Markus Myslivec, Head of Public Transport Solutions, Frequentis."

“In turn, this means greater flexibility in following the technological evolution of such networks, as well as less dependency on one specific communication bearer.”
Further gains include:

- reduced implementation costs (off-the-shelf components and systems) and improved operational efficiency (usage of rail-specific services over various bearers)

- one multi-service network for different types of application

- greater reliability and availability (redundancy and resilient architecture)

- efficient use of limited capacity at the interfaces in question

- ease of interconnectivity with IP-based networks

Learn from the leaders

In the public transport field, one pioneer of this bearer independent approach is the Finnish Transport Agency(FTA).

Another, in public safety, are the emergency services in the United Kingdom. Lessons learned by such early adopters of public networks, according to Mr Myslivec, highlight the following needs:

- to carefully plan and safeguard against security threats and what the various networks provide

- to explore and understand how to use the basic communication services

- to be clear about the service level, capacity and coverage you are receiving

Could rail operators first use different networks then ultimately select the ones that work best for them? “Yes, at Frequentis we’re already considering this,” said Mr Myslivec, “although it does involve a number of technical challenges, such as security measures.”

A first for Finland

In June 2016, the FTA gave Frequentis the green light 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 Mr Myslivec. “Then the GSM-R will be switched off.”

For the FTA, there were several drivers behind this technology shift. Over the last couple of years, 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 has led to train drivers, shunting leaders, track maintenance leaders, and traffic control being completely cut off from each other.

Another reason to run with URCA is that the current GSM-R network equipment was nearing the end of its life cycle.
All the equipment is now installed and roll-out should be completed by the end of 2018
“Aware of the impending obsolescence of their GSM-R, we approached the FTA telling them we have a clever idea to resolve their problem,” said Mr Myslivec.

“It was a case of the ideal scenario whereby a potential client needs a solution and a provider comes along at the right moment.”

The end-to-end solution, based on the Frequentis fixed terminal, rail voice 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 – all in all, ninety fixed working positions will be deployed.

“[This roll-out of URCA] will enable us to significantly reduce our communications costs,” said Tapio Raaska, Senior Inspector & Railway Communications Service Manager, FTA.

“Instead of spending time and money on renewing our own radio network, limited to railway communications, we can concentrate on solutions and applications.”

Frequentis AG is an international supplier of communication and information systems for control centres with safety-critical tasks.

In the field of public transport, our solutions leverage over 70 years of experience in safety-critical communications and applications. Cross-industry expertise gained from supporting control centre communication lays the foundations for industry-leading rail and urban transport solutions.

Frequentis maintains a worldwide network of subsidiaries and local representatives in more than fifty countries. The company’s products and solutions are behind more than 25,000 operator positions in over 120 countries

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