The Digital Railway and FRMCS. A Replacement for GSM-R
The concept of the digital railway came into being with the first operational implementation of GSM-R in 1999. The International Union of Railways (UIC) describe GSM-R as ‘the bearer for the first Digital Railway Radio Communications System’. GSM-R is a second generation (2G) digital radio system based on the commercial GSM mobile telephony system adapted for use on railways. Companies such as Motorola modified their very successful 2G terrestrial mobile infrastructure products to support GSM-R. GSM-R has been hugely successful across Europe, being used in over 20 countries across 100,000km of tracks. The number of modern railway communications systems is expected to increase in the next few years due to the ongoing installations across the world including locations such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, India, China and Australia.
GSM-R technology is now over 20 years old, and vendors are actively planning to end-of-life support for equipment. Meaning that software updates and hardware replacements will cease at the end-of-life date. The latest 5G technologies have been designed to support flexible mobile broadband systems, supporting both low bit rate and very high bit rate connections.
Enter, FRMCS – Future Railway Mobile Communications System. Started in 2012 with the publication of a UIC called the User Requirement Specification (URS) to capture the user requirements for communications in the railway across the globe. FRMCS is much more than are placement for GSM-R, it represents a opportunity to revolutionise communications in a modern railway system.
At the time of writing, the most recent URS is FU 7100-v5.0.0, published in May 2020. These user requirements are translated into Functional Requirement Specification (FRS) and in turn the System Requirement Specification (SRS). The SRS is necessary to satisfy the European Directives with regard to interoperability across European railways. Secondly, the use cases can be presented to ETSI and 3GPP for ‘gap analysis’.
Although the UIC states that FRMCS should be technology agnostic, it doesn’t make sense to develop a new technology when 3GPP have a suite of standards focused on Mission Critical Communications (MCX).
The FRMCS project is well underway with a FRMCS demonstrator planned for 2023 and the first national trials beginning in 2024. The benefits of FRMCS are very significant to a rail operator, however the timescales are very short and there are a number of challenges facing the successful implementation of FRMCS.
FRMCS is another area of Critical National Infrastructure in which Wray Castle are international experts. We have been helping telecommunications professionals keep on the leading edge of ever changing technology since 1958.
To learn more about FRMCS visit Wray Castle’s website.