Operation of modern railways is heavily relying on real-time communication between different components and systems, enabling various degrees of automation and automatic controls. Such real-time communications are taking place inside the train, between the locomotive and the cars, between train and railway, between train, railways and the control centers – and this doesn’t even take into account all the voice and group communications related to the railway operations.
When it comes to communications, whether between people or between systems, it is important that the communications will be based on a set of open standards. Using open standards enables innovation and competitiveness allows vendors to develop best of breed solutions and gives choice to the users and operators to select such best of the breed solutions at competitive prices, avoiding single supplier lock-down.
Until today, most of the voice and group communications in the railways are conducted either using GSM-R or a variety of LMR technologies – analog radios, DMR, TETRA, P25 – all of these are in use for human communications. For systems and components communications, there are primarily two open standards-based technologies in use today – GSM-R and CBTC.
GSM-R (a version of the GSM standard adapted for Railway use) is fully standardized, but an old mobile packet-based 2G communication technology used for train control and automated train operation in Europe, Australia, and a few other countries. CBTC is partially standardized in IEEE, typically runs over WiFi, in use in Japan, Europe and other countries. Due to the partially standardized nature of CBTC, the final complete solution typically ends up being proprietary and closed, and thus not the best to fulfill the open innovation goals. Which leaves us with GSM-R.
GSM-R was first introduced for railway use by the UIC in 1992. 30 years later, the GSM-R remains the main communication facility for high-speed railways, but considering that the world of mobile communications fully embraces 5G, the implementation of the 5th generation of GSM standards (versus GSM-R’s 2G, the second generation), it is time to bring railway communications to the 21st century.
Since 2014, UIC had been actively working on developing a new set of standards for railway communications called FRMCS – Future Railway Mobile Communication System, using 5G mobile networks as a base communication paradigm. 5G networks, based on standards developed by 3GPP, offer high speed, high bandwidth, high reliability, resiliency, in addition to a slew of other features. Starting with 3GPP release 12, 3GPP took on developing the set of standards for Mission Critical Communications, which offer highly secure and reliable group communications for voice, video, and all types of data (chat, images, files, etc), all fully ingrained into the core of 4G and 5G networks. Core network integration ensures that the network will provide all necessary priority processing to the mission critical communications, guaranteeing its mission critical capabilities. This set of mission critical capabilities, or MCX for short, now became the core component of FRMCS, greatly simplifying and optimizing overall design of FRMCS solutions.
MCX standards, enhanced with railway-specific features such as functional alias and multi-talker starting from 3GPP Release 15, provide a solid foundation for FRMCS. MCX brings with it strong security, the ability to manage users including authorization and authentication, variety of group communication capabilities for voice, video, and data, all with appropriate priority on the network level. MCX also enables creation of secure data tunnels over the same 5G network which are required for the operation of FRMCS applications such as ETCS (European Train Control System), ATO (Automated Train Operation), ATP (Automated Train Protection), PA (passenger Announcement), passenger information system and many others.
Softil, with its long history of enabling the IP communications industry, has been a pioneer of enabling technologies for developers of mission critical communications solutions since the introduction of BEEHD MCX framework in 2015. Some of Softil’s partners, such as Hoimyung in South Korea, has been deploying early MCX train communications solutions since 2018. Siemens Mobility out of the UK jumped on the FRMCS bandwagon also back in 2019, utilizing Softil BEEHD to develop FRMCS on-board gateways.
Softil’s BEEHD is a cross-platform MCX/FRMCS framework (SDK) designed for developers of applications for Mission Critical Communication and FRMCS over 5G/LTE, offering functionalities such as Push-to-Talk (MCPTT), Push-to-Video (MCVideo), Group Chat, Short Data Service (MCData), and MCData IPConn for on-board gateways and cab radios, handheld devices, trackside gateways, and dispatch/command and control solutions, and more. As you can see in the diagram below, Softil BEEHD can enable a full range of FRMCS applications, delivering full support of the MCX standards for FRMCS.
If you are developing an FRMCS solution, you can download here the BEEHD FRMCS brochure and find all the necessary information about the BEEHD MCX/FRMCS capabilities. You might also be interested in the Softil’s white paper, Developing Advanced Mission Critical Communications, as well as Siemens Mobility on-board gateway case study.