What is FRMCS, the Future Railway Mobile Communication System? Discover the future worldwide telecommunication system
In spite of what it may apparently seem, railways and the world of rail transport are one of the sectors in which professional communication systems and devices are mostly used In a nutshell, the latter constitute a fundamental support for the safety of goods and people, while the margins of error are reduced and the need for coordination is high.
Since the late 1990s, the European authorities have selected GSM-R as their radio transmission technology. This is defined in the technical specification for interoperability (TSI) relating to the control-command and signalling subsystems of the trans-European rail system, with standardization being a key to achieving a harmonized solution.
GSM-R is part of the ETSI/3GPP GSM specifications and applications have specific Quality of Service requirements for a harmonized railway operation. In addition, it operates in the ER-GSM band.
GSM-R has become the standard for telecommunication services and a key building block within the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS).
ERTMS is the new rail management system which combines the European Train Control System (ETCS) with GSM-R. As a unique European train control system, ERTMS has been designed to gradually replace the existing incompatible systems throughout Europe. This brought considerable benefits to the railway sector since it has boosted the international freight and passenger transport. Furthermore, ERTMS is arguably the most performant train control system in the world and brings significant advantages in terms of maintenance costs savings, safety, reliability, punctuality and traffic capacity.
Within Europe, GSM-R is now being combined with the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) to form the basis for an Intelligent Transport System that will provide railways the means to improve the efficiency of rail operations and offer new services to users.
Beyond all European countries, it was adopted, among other places, in Saudi Arabia and Israel. In the Far East it has been extended to India, China and Australia, where networks are implemented. This is also the case for South Africa as well as all the North African countries. Since 2016, 56 countries in 5 continents have been selected GSM-R for their Rail operation.
The constantly evolving needs of rail transport and the technological development underway in mobile communications are highlighting how this standard cannot be the final answer to the growing needs for data exchange between on-board and ground. For this reason, the UIC in close cooperation with the European Union Agency for Railway (ERA) has initiated working groups and specification activities to define the successor of the GSM-R radio communication system deployed on rails, called Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS).
The implementation of the FRMCS standard will allow the transfer of a greater amount of data, enabling new possibilities in terms of coordination between rail and public transport, smart maintenance and autonomous or assisted driving. In this way, the demands for greater data traffic and information management typical of modern trains, increasingly digital and interconnected, will be met.
Consequently FRMCS will be able to lead the railway world towards a new technological and innovative pattern for its professional and operational communications by covering different mission-critical rail communications: “Mission Critical Push To Talk” (MCPTT), “Mission Critical Data” (MCData) and “Mission Critical Video” (MCVideo) applied to the railway world.
The GSM-R Industry Group has indicated that the support of GSM-R products and services is guaranteed at least until 2030. Based on this input, the railway sector has had to mitigate the risk of unavailability of GSM-R as a radio system for train operation after this date.
The replacement of GSM-R equipment (on-board and trackside) with new equipment offering potential new services (which cannot be provided by GPRS) while maintaining interoperability, has to be considered in a global timeline. For this reason, the evolution of the GSM-R is currently under discussion.
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