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Railways communication networks: a big opportunity for telco solution vendors


For vendors of solutions in the telco industry, changes in railway communications networks presently represent a significant commercial opportunity. In this blog, we’ll try to explain why.

Why are we talking about trains and telcos? To explain why, let’s start with a bit of history. Over the years, enterprise communications networks have always tended to evolve to meet the specific needs of a variety of different vertical industries. It’s fair to say that railways offer the prime example. The geographical spread of railway networks and telecommunications networks have often been harnessed to each other. The US provides a good example.

In fact, the link goes further. Railways have always at the forefront of adopting new technologies. For example, while the initial deployment of electricity to power them may vary from country-to-country, the rail industry has always out of necessity been an early adopter of electrically powered machines which have been particularly important in the domain of safety and control systems. The telegraph, digital computers, and telecommunications technology have all been taken on at early stages of their own development too.

Presently, we’re at an inflection point in this process of continual innovation. Digital transformation is driving the reinvention of rail communications networks. These networks are mission critical. Train operators must have seamless communications to run their businesses optimally, yet presently most count on single-purpose, legacy communications networks to support the different applications that help them to achieve their commercial goals.

Those legacy communications networks weren’t designed for what rail operators and their customers today now require. That is, high volumes of data traffic to support and enable the introduction of a new generation of services. So, how do railways meet the demands of migrating to the new, all IP-based communications networks necessary for their future?

The market is changing

Change is coming fast. Rail is broadly about the management of moving objects, the maintenance of thousands of miles of track, the coordination of signalling, the running of both manned and unmanned sites, the organization of complicated timetables and much more. All these tasks demand real time technology solutions.

In the context of communications networks, the present standard for railways is GSM-R, a version of GSM optimised for the industry. GSM-R uses a customised fixed telecommunications network in tandem with mobile technology to handle tasks such as journey registration, operational messaging, driver-signaller communications, and others.

However, GSMR is now being replaced by a new technology, the Future Railways Mobile Communications System (FRMCS). This is being driven as the railway sector looks to digitization as the primary means to enhance customer experience, further improve efficiency in day-to-day operations, upgrade rail network security, and address issues of data integrity.

The transition to FRMCS won’t be straightforward and will require network-level infrastructure changes. GSM-R, a 2G technology, will need to be replaced by 5G. That’s what will truly drive the modernization of train services and enable operators to achieve commercial success.

Meeting the challenge

Here’s the key point for telco solution vendors. Railway networks are being transformed to deliver new smart capabilities and support advanced operational management functions. In the process one aspect that will come into play will be a wide array of new and unfamiliar communications network assets and componentry. Managing these effectively is a complex, mission critical challenge that must be met successfully to ensure long-term commercial success.

Building out the new communications network while maintaining existing assets will also be a challenge. As railways install an increasing number of new communications network assets, deploying and managing those already in place will be another obstacle. Robust network equipment and OSS solutions will be necessities.

Also, a data-driven value chain will be vital if railway operators are to benefit from integrating their information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems, and convert the real-time data yielded by their assets into actionable intelligence that can increase ROI and reduce costs, boost efficiency, trim expenses, and enable better customer engagement. So, BSS comes into the picture too.

What do railways need to get on top of the problem? To the telco solutions vendor market, for which a considerable opportunity awaits. If you’d like to discuss how eCS can help you tap this rich new source of opportunity, please get in touch.

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