Evolving towards the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (Opinion)

Written By Raymond Anthony, Vice President of Transport Industry, Huawei Technologies Malaysia

Digitalisation is the “in” word nowadays, with seemingly the whole world embarking on digital transformation journeys. Malaysia is no exception, and when it comes to the digitalisation of the railway sector, the consensus is for solutions that will make railways smarter, safer, more visualised for improved operations, more efficient and more reliable. Success in the railway industry depends on these key aspects, with both operators and passengers expecting flawless service which require communications networks that perform at optimum levels.

It is clear that the rail industry has entered the next stage in its digital development and that next-gen solutions require next-gen communication standards.

During the recent Malaysia Rail Technology Expo (RTX) 2022 that was held in August 2022 in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport (MOT), Malaysian Rail Development Corporation (MRDC), Malaysia Rail Industry Corporation (MARIC) and the Technology Depository Agency (TDA), I expounded the necessity and benefits of adopting the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) standards to drive the digital transformation of the railway industry in Malaysia.

This is the course taken by Europe, which I feel is a move that we should emulate. Adopting the FRMCS standards will make the transition from legacy rail communication networks more seamless, efficient and swift. The rail operators in Malaysia have also realised the benefits offered by the adoption of FRMCS standards and its benefits, including that of mission critical services, group communications, voice, video, images, and high-speed data.

Having an umbrella standard like FRMCS that covers all future rail use cases requiring a mobile communication system will be an enabler for digital railways. This will allow future services to run even more reliably, while at the same time increasing capacity of existing rail networks and optimising system costs.

Adopting the FRMCS standards will also facilitate the implementation of a broad range of new use cases, such as mission critical services, the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive maintenance. This will help with critical applications essential for train movements such as communications, trackside maintenance and train protection related services. It will also assist railway operators with performance applications which will help improve the performance of railway operations, such as train departure procedures.

Why we need to change from Legacy Networks Systems

Current wireless networks (GSM-R / Wayside Communication Systems) cannot meet the requirements of the railway digital transformation to support more services due to insufficient bandwidth, complex networking and the need of multiple networks to carry services. Due to such limitations, value added services such as video, railway multimedia dispatching communications, railway infrastructure smart management, trackside IOT, predictive maintenance and passenger service information transmission, cannot be realised.

As the first digital wireless communications system introduced back in the 1990s to boost railway transportation, legacy networks can no longer support the increasing service demands of the growing digital industry. Its ecosystem is facing a decline in certainty, and its technologies are obsolete. To address these customer concerns, the industry has proposed the FRMCS solution to help it upgrade wireless communications systems, taking into consideration technology evolution, the ecosystem, and costs.

The Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS)

In contrast, the FRMCS based on LTE technology with an evolution towards 5G, is growing as it can carry more services with its improved bandwidth, latency and proven ecosystem based on years of LTE developments in the telecommunications industry. As a mature technology, LTE has been proposed to be the carrier of the railway

industry in some regions including the Korea Train Express, metros and railways in China, the urban rail transit in France and numerous other metro and railway lines, thus laying a solid foundation for ecosystem development.

The spectrum range that has been selected for FRMCS in Europe is based on 1900MHz. Emulating this will ensure the seamless progression to 5G in Malaysia when the 5G roll-out matures. Therefore, it makes sense that the industry preferred FRMCS frequency band for rail, which is the 1900MHz, should be the frequency of choice.

Technical Evolution and Its Benefits to the Railway Sector

Having said that, we must endeavour to reduce the investments by railway operators and to do this we must find new technology to improve the 1900 MHz coverage.

Technologies such as Huawei’s 8T8R multi-array smart antennas improves the coverage by 10 to 15 per cent compared with the industry’s 4T4R technology, allowing for fewer base stations and cost savings.

I feel that the 8T8R MIMO should be considered as an important feature to improve wireless network capability and further to this technology, Huawei’s unique dual- network solution at the same site also improves the reliability of the FRMCS radio network to 99.999 per cent.

New technology does not need to be expensive. Commonly, replacing the entire network is costly for railway operators, hence why we ensured that key technologies such as 8T8R are developed to not only support the evolution to LTE but also to 5G in the near future. With these technologies in place, the evolution from LTE to 5G will require only a software upgrade, hence providing another financial benefit for rail operators.

FRMCS will be an enabler for digital railways, which allows future services to run even more reliably, and increases capacity on existing rail networks, while at the same time also optimises system costs

These reasons are why I believe the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is the way forward and its implementation is pivotal for the digitalisation of railways in Malaysia. We cannot do this in silo. I am confident that together with the railway industry, stakeholders and ecosystem, we will be able to adopt these standards and steer our railway industry to greater heights, ensuring that it is one of the best in the region.

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