Ericsson presented its 5G and FRMCS solutions at InnoTrans – Ericsson

The InnoTrans event is the leading international trade fair for rail transport technology, which took place fromSept 20 to Sept 23 in Berlin, Germany. It was a huge event with over 2800 vendors showcasing everything you need to source if working with trains, buses, and public transportation, from the bolts, screws, cabling, rail, and fabrics for the seats inside the trains, to ticketing systems. There was even a full trainyard with real trains on show. IT and telecommunications vendors were also present, and Ericsson had a booth focusing on 5G for rail communications.

Of course, we took the S-Bahn from Berlin city to the Messe in Berlin, among the other over 135000 visitors from 131 countries attending the event. We welcomed our current and potential future customers from communication service providers, railway companies, and organizations such as government agencies and eco-system partners to discuss how train passengers and railway operations will benefit from 5G mobile broadband.

Figure 1: Outdoor railyard with trains on display at InnoTrans 2022.

(Photo by Sanne Stijve)

The 5G-based Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is intended to serve train radio communications, both for voice and data services. It is the successor of GSM-R, the current standard being used mainly in Europe. FRMCS is being coordinated by the International Union of Railways (UIC) and developed jointly with major rail infrastructure companies and suppliers of telecom solutions. It is currently being finalized and will be based on the 5G 3GPP-standard. Hence it will not create a railway-specific cellular network technology.

Mobile network operators can provide 5G connectivity to train passengers and work with railway companies to support them with broadband bandwidth for efficient digitalization of their train operations.

The European Union has defined a prioritized transport network of roads, railways, and waterways infrastructure and is making a funding push to build 5G rail corridors throughout Europe during the next decade. This will enable more sustainable travel for both business and leisure travel, as well as providing more efficient freight transportation. The deployment of 5G for rail is a top priority for the European Union since it advances green transport and helps meet the EU climate goals.

As mentioned, railway companies still rely on 2G communications technology, the GSM-R systems used for rail operations in many countries. Appearing 20 years ago, GSM-R only provides voice and very low data speeds. We are now, as consumers, used to 5G speeds on our smartphones, and governments are starting to build 4G and 5G networks for different government communications systems like nationwide public safety networks. The public transportation sector will also benefit from 5G mobile broadband for metro, regional and mainline railways.

By providing more bandwidth, faster speeds, lower latency, and more secure systems, railway organizations can modernize and digitalize their operations with 5G communications technology.

Figure 2: 5G will provide more efficient and safe operations for train staff, and improved services for passengers.

This means that rail operators can fully digitalize railway operations, support an increasing level of automatic train operations (ATO), leverage on the potential offered by the Internet of Things (IoT), e.g., smart preventive maintenance, and use video for surveillance and obstacle detection along the railway lines. More trains can circulate on the same rail tracks compared to today, and more accurate information and more tailored onboard services can be provided to passengers. It will ultimately improve service quality for travelers and commuters.

At our booth, we were showing a live demonstration of an end-to-end FRMCS network using commercial Ericsson products, including radio access network, 5G Core, IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), and 3rd party application servers and end devices. Mission-critical calls between a cab radio from Funkwerk and a dispatcher from Frequentis over Ericssons mobile network were demonstrated end-to-end (cab radios are located in the train's cockpit and operated by the train driver and the dispatcher is in a command center).

Figure 3: Live end-to-end FRMCS demonstration with Ericsson network, Frequentis dispatcher (left) and Funkwerk cab radio (right).

(Photo by Kati hman)

Today, many railway companies provide Wi-Fi inside the trains for the passengers or install repeaters to improve the coverage of the public mobile operators networks inside the wagons. This, however, has some drawbacks, such as costly maintenance and upgrades of Wi-Fi or repeater equipment and interference of repeated radio signals when opening the train doors. Passenger connectivity could instead be provided by the public mobile operators using their regular commercial 5G networks with extra 5G towers built along the main rail tracks.

By using special 5G-friendly glass in the train windows, the 5G signals will penetrate better through the glass (the regular window glass is coated to reduce sun radiation to heat up the passenger compartments). This way, costly and cumbersome maintenance and upgrades of either Wi-Fi or repeater equipment can be avoided, and mobile operators can serve their customers with their 5G broadband services.

Figure 4: With special train window glass, passengers and train staff can benefit from 5G connectivity inside the train wagons.

In the demonstration at our booth, we could compare the throughput performance of a standard coated glass with a 5G-friendly train window glass from the glass vendor AGC. The demo set-up had a 5G radio cell and a 5G modem where speeds of up to 1 Gbit per second could be demonstrated.

We had excellent coverage in the live demonstration, the downlink throughput was 25%-30% higher with the 5G-friendly glass compared to the standard coated glass. On the uplink, the difference is even a factor of two to four. In more challenging environments in real trains, the difference in performance is expected to be even more significant.

Such speeds can not only be reached in a lab or an exhibition booth but also live in a real train: the Swiss mobile operator Swisscom has reached 1,2 Gbit per second in trains moving at 120 km/h on a test track using 5G cells with 100 MHz carrier bandwidth at 3,5 GHz.

Figure 5: 5G live demonstration of Gigabit connectivity inside train wagons through 5G-friendly glass.

(Photo by Sanne Stijve)

It is expected that in the future, there will be much more automation also in the rail sector, which means among other things more driverless trains. Driverless trains are already used in railway operations today, for example, in recently deployed automated metro lines and freight trains in high-risk zones where the railway companies do not want to send their staff to work.

In the future, it might happen that a driver must remotely take over control of a driverless train to drive it safely to the next station. This could happen in case of bad weather with snow and ice, animals, landslides, or other obstacles on the tracks. And imagine that there could be robotic equipment mounted on the train, or heavy-lifting drones, with tools that can lift or remove obstacles off the track in case of an emergency. These tools could be remotely steered and controlled over 5G by the operations team sitting in an office in another part of the country.

Could 5G really bring these kinds of remote operations services to train staff? The visitors could get a glimpse of this future by testing this themselves at our booth. They could remotely drive a 5G-connected vehicle located in Stockholm from our booth in Berlin. Most drivers managed to drive the imaginary train track without killing our dear Swedish moose or the Indian elephant blocking the route!

Figure 6: Driving a 5G connected vehicle in Stockholm, remotely from Berlin.

(Photo by Kati hman)

There are two ways in which drones can be a useful asset for railways, exploiting their speed and flexibility.

Figure 7: Examples of drone applications for rail, requiring 5G network connectivity.

The first one is to use drones to improve situational awareness, be it for regular patrols (e.g., finding brake shoes or vegetation management) or to quickly evaluate the situation in disaster scenarios (e.g. derailment). With the great advances in visual AI analysis over the last years, this process can be automated to a large extent, which we have also demonstrated in a proof of concept together with Deutsche Bahn in the 5G Connected Mobility project.

The second opportunity to use drones is to extend the broadband coverage and local capacity of terrestrial networks, with drones as deployable cells. Especially in rural, hilly areas, it is challenging to provide sufficient network coverage for all scenarios and in all places around the rail tracks. In such cases, drones can step in dynamically, e.g., during overnight maintenance work or in disaster scenarios, to provide the needed network performance.

We had interesting discussions about these opportunities with many visitors, receiving validation of the use cases, but also an interest in the flexible, complementary role that drones can play in supporting rail operations.

What is the most cost-efficient way to build a 5G network that can cater to both railway operations connectivity, as well as passenger connectivity? And this while meeting the stringent requirements of rail operators in terms of coverage, capacity, and of course, resilience?

The hybrid architecture, combining dedicated network assets for rail and shared network assets from public mobile operators, offers many advantages. Rail companies can have the most critical applications - voice communications and train control and signaling - running on their 5G Core and even their 5G radio base stations. And with this hybrid architecture, they can rely on public mobile operators for:

Using network assets from public mobile operators can only happen if Quality of Service (QoS) is ensured. For that, mechanisms such as Network Slicing or Radio Access Network Sharing can be used. Europes Strategic Deployment Agenda for 5G Railway Corridors has adopted such a hybrid architecture.

Figure 8: Hybrid network deployment model to provide 5G for railways and passengers.

We conducted a successful trial of MIMO (Multiple Input Multiple Output) and Coordinated Multipoint features in radios using the FRMCS 1900 MHz band at Deutsche Bahns test track in Erzgebirge in Germany. The trial demonstrated a dramatic improvement in uplink throughput by implementing these features. Deutsche Bahn and Ericsson jointly published these results at the IEEE Vehicle Technology Conference in Helsinki in June.

At the InnoTrans event, Ericsson was nominated by Deutsche Bahn for their Supplier Award 2022 in the category infrastructure, which comes as important proof that the most prominent rail transport sector stakeholders recognize the value of our mission-critical network solutions. We were nominated among 15 other companies out of over 20000 suppliers to Deutsche Bahn, and we were one of the three nominees out of over 4000 suppliers in the infrastructure category.

We visited Deutsche Bahns Advanced Train Lab, which was actually inside a train, where visitors could walk through the whole length of the train and look at different technology demonstrations. They also showed the FRMCS trial there and 5G-friendly train windows.

Figute 9: Deutsche Bahns Advanced Train Lab train at InnoTrans outdoor railyard.

(Photo by Sanne Stijve)

Overall, it was a very interesting event with many fruitful discussions with people from different companies working with railways. It will be interesting to see how fast Europe will build the full infrastructure for 5G-connected trains. By making train journeys more practical and comfortable for passengers, we will travel more sustainably in the future.

Learn more about FRMCS and 5G for railways

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Ericsson presented its 5G and FRMCS solutions at InnoTrans - Ericsson

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