GSM-R is the digital radio system, the data carrier for the ETCS signalling system standard and train-ground communication. It is the proven radio system to improve railway operations by voice support and the reliable transmission of the Railway Emergency Call. 70,000 km of track are covered by GSM-R all around the globe and the figures will significantly increase in the future. It is expected that the roll-out of GSM-R on the European network will be complete between 2016 – 2018.
In view of the technological advancement of radio digital technology, moving towards IP and broadband technologies, consideration must be given to the future of GSM technology. GSM is proven to be robust, cheap and reliable, and it is currently the most long-lasting technology. Nevertheless, suppliers expect a possible decrease in its demand at the beginning of the next decade. This could result in a GSM end of support in the next period. As GSM-R is based on GSM, this will strongly influence the GSM-R roadmap. GSM-R support by suppliers is committed until at least 2028.
With experience of the development and introduction of GSM-R, it can be foreseen that for the specification process, technology selection, pilot, equipment availability and migration, GSM-R replacement would need a substantial period of time. Also the fact that GSM-R has a legal TSI status makes this more complex. Any step must be agreed between the users, authorities, standardisation bodies and suppliers.
UIC has started the work on the succession of GSM-R since 2009, when a technical report on the then new LTE technology was challenged against the railways operational needs, and also released in October 2010 the Railway Mobile Communication System User Requirement Specification, the basic document needed for suppliers and standardisation bodies when thinking about solutions to replace GSM-R.
This new system must fulfil railways’ operational needs, better support the railway business needs, be future proof, and capable of co-existing with GSM-R for a long period of time.
In the period between 2009 and now, UIC has held a number of events discussing these subjects, including a demonstration of LTE capabilities on possible future railway operational needs (in cooperation with Alcatel Lucent).
Starting 2014, these have been brought together in the UIC Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), which had its Kick-Off meeting in Paris, UIC HQ, on 21 and 22 January 2013.
Around 20 experts joined this meeting, including representatives of ERA.
ERA has also started to work on this subject, and launched an analysis for the needs and implementation models, as well as an ex post analysis on functionality and benefits for railways.
FRMCS and ERA activities are coordinated and convergent, and this was made clear during the meeting not only as a statement, but also by starting the work on the common program, where of course each entity is respecting the role and the remit of its work.
As announced in the UIC GSM-R Asset & Evolutions Management and ERA CCRCC Conferences, ERA and the EC expect a decision on the future system to be taken by 2018, and the system will be made available for deployment by end of 2022.
UIC will take actions on different subjects. The main ones are standardisation – where a call for candidates for a UIC 3GPP representative is being launched, in frequencies – where lobbying with the ECC/ECO will be done to obtain spectrum, the basic need for radio technology. These items will be synchronised with activities in the field of other professional sectors, e.g. utilities and “blue light” (police, fire brigade, etc.). More railway specific railways needs will be evaluated based on used cases, and on the business case – fostering railway operations and activities via real time applications, that will make the information available. A percentage of the foreseen budget will be allocated to studying the border between software and hardware based solutions.
This important UIC Essential Project intends to prepare the decision on the GSM-R inheritor in 2 – 3 years, and the preparation of the European Pilot to come, where UIC is positioned for the lead.