FRMCS: Next-Gen Train Radio Enablement with 5G

Train radio has been using GSM-R standard for its communication since 20 years. However, GSM-R systems are based on 2nd generation GSM mobile technology. According to experts, GSM-R equipment will be obsolete after 2030. International Union of Railways (UIC) team has drawn up a plan to develop the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) as a successor to GSM-R. It is intended to have FRMCS demonstrator ready by 2023.

FRMCS will be designed keeping 5G ecosystem in mind and it is seen as a game changer for railway digitisation. GSM-R has been installed on 140,000 km of railway track across Europe and 210,000 km worldwide. It provides seamless 2.5G connectivity between track side and on-board and improves safety through the railway emergency call system. But, the specifications for GSM-R were finalised in 2000 and it is unable to transmit the volumes of data needed today and in the near future.

UIC had started studies to develop GSM-R successor back in 2012. This led to the decision to develop FRMCS as a worldwide standard for railway communications. UIC has brought together stakeholders from railway and telecom communities. FRMCS is designed to support all the applications that will be implemented in a scope of railway digitisation. Some of these applications are – hybridisation between railway and the public transport, driverless autonomous trains, IoT, smart maintenance and traffic monitoring. This is why, FRMCS is an ENABLER.

In order to safeguard this investment, FRMCS has been included in the global telecommunication standards of 3GPP into Release 16 and 17. In this way, FRMCS designed for 5G will remain compatible with the future generations.

FRMCS is designed to work with the complimentary networks like Wi-Fi, public 5G and even satellites. Thus, it offers ‘Bearer Flexibility’. It is based on IP Protocol ensuring optimal flexibility and upgradability of applications. Just like GSM-R , FRMCS will enable full interoperability of railway operations. The user requirement specification for FRMCS is already available. Around 1000 use cases have already been proposed and are in the process of approval by telecom standardisation bodies.

The first FRMCS trials are expected in 2023 and migration from GSM-R between 2025 and 2035. It will be a key driver for railway digitisation. It will open new opportunities for future mobility by breaking barriers between transport mode and usage.

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