Leading figures from the rail telecommunications sector debated the issue of effective Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) coverage during a webinar entitled How can we ensure efficient FRMCS connectivity in rural areas? held on 30 June. The webinar was the second in a two-part series: How can the rail infra sector implement FRMCS with maximum efficiency? organised by the International Railway Summit in association with Frequentis.
A major consideration for FRMCS implementation is ensuring seamless connectivity in rural areas. A live rail sector audience learned about possible solutions and strategies during the webinar.
Infrastructure owners are now preparing to implement the 5G-enabled FRMCS, migrating from the 2G-based GSM-R, whose technology is expected to become obsolete around 2030. Dan Mandoc, Head of FRMCS at UIC, which is designing the FRMCS system, explained that UIC’s goal is to deliver the first version of FRMCS for IMs for procurement in the second half of 2025.
The speakers debated which technologies and networks can best enable safe and smooth operations. Mr Mandoc noted that mission-critical applications in rural areas required the use of the frequency spectrum that would be allocated specifically to rail, and emphasised the importance of ensuring that emergency calls could be made and received. The webinar moderator, Robert Sarfati, Chair of UIC’s European Railway Implementers for GSM-R (ERIC) Group, said “Availability is a key issue...we’re not in the public network world, where if a phone call is dropped you just call again”.
Significant traffic moves through rural areas which must have guaranteed coverage. Markus Myslivec, Head of Public Transport Solutions at Frequentis, explained that the European Commission’s goal of shifting people and freight to rail meant that a greater burden on the infrastructure was to be expected.
Mr Myslivec presented how railway control rooms could best use FRMCS, which comes with built-in bearer flexibility to guarantee connection to the train. Bearer flexibility gives infrastructure managers a choice of multiple bearers, including public Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), WiFi and satellite.
Mr Mandoc noted that use of MNOs could result in degraded quality of service, and reiterated the importance of ensuring that railway emergency calls were always available. Carlos Rincón Abel, Senior Telecommunications Manager at Adif, said that in the Spanish rail infrastructure manager’s experience, public coverage was not good in rural areas, even on high-speed lines. Infrastructure managers should start deploying neutral 5G networks themselves at stations and rail tracks so that they would be better prepared for migration and would not need to rely on MNOs, he said.
Markku Voutilainen, Senior Inspector, Engineering and Environment, Track and Rolling Stock Technology, Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency (FTIA), presented the company’s FRMCS radio network planning and the challenges it is facing specific to rural areas, in which 90% of Finland’s track is located. For Mr Voutilainen, it was essential that the basic needs for rail operations, interoperability and safety be satisfied.
Eric Giraud-Desjuzeur, Director – PPP GSM-R & Radio Rail Network, SNCF Réseau, highlighted the importance of using infrastructure efficiently and managing assets carefully to reduce costs, adding that close monitoring of systems would ensure efficiency and maintain safety.
Other topics covered in the panel debate, which included live questions from the audience, were management of coexistence of GSM-R and FRMCS and national migration timelines.
The webinar is now available to watch on demand free of charge. To watch the full debate, please visit https://www.irits.org/irswebinars/part-2-how-can-we-ensure-efficient-frmcs-connectivity-in-rural-areas/