Why should European railways migrate to FRMCS?
By 2025, European railways will migrate to the new standard of communication known by the acronym FRMCS. Speaking at the online RailTech Infra Forum 2020, UIC Head of Telecoms & Signalling Jean-Michel Evanghelou has clarified why this change is vital for the rail sector.
“There are two important elements to understand. The first one is that GSM-R for industry reasons is going to obsolescence. This means that it is an old technology, which started in the 1990s. When we look at the history of telecoms, GSM, which is a base for GSM-R, was invented in the 1980s, and the industry has been supporting it for many years. Now it is becoming outdated. Therefore, the first point is an obligation of the main providers of the solution that will stop its maintenance by 2030,” Jean-Michel Evanghelou said at the RailTech Infra Forum 2020 that took place online on 17-18 June. According to him, this reason is very important for the rail sector as it needs to plan investments in the new infrastructure for the coming years.
5G is a reason
The second reason is related to the further development of telecommunications. “2G and GSM-R were good solutions for ERTMS. And they are still great solutions for railway operations. However, the change to 5G will provide a lot of new possibilities, in terms of capacity, reaction, applications. With 5G, we are opening the possibility of digitalisation,” Mr Evanghelou specified. The launching of the 5G technology is a base for the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) standard that will replace GSM-R. “We definitely go to 5G,” he added.
Migration to FRMCS
Jean Michel Evanghelou also noted that the migration to the FRMCS standard will be a very difficult and long process. For better understanding, he gave an example of the GSM-R implementation. “We started GSM-R in a serious way in Europe in 2000, which means 20 years ago. And we are still equipping some countries in Europe. There are cycles in railway infrastructure investments, and it is quite long to equip all the lines in Europe. Today you have around 150,000 km of lines equipped with GSM-R. It is quite impressive,” Mr Evanghelou explained.
As for the possible timeframe, the UIC expert in telecommunications reminded 2025 as a planned deadline. In fact, this process needs more time. As a result, some countries are already planning to migrate to the FRMCS standard later, even by 2035. “There are a lot of things for planning and investing, you need time. Therefore, it’s really important to start as soon as we can,” Mr Evanghelou noted.
Currently, the International Union of Railways (UIC) as a standardisation body is working on FRMCS. In April it issued two specifications for the future standard. Moreover, UIC is planning to prototype FRMCS. “Very recently, we had some very good news. We will be capable to put together a global programme for prototyping FRMCS with all the relevant suppliers and railways,” Jean-Michel Evanghelou said.
According to him, this will be performed as a part of the European programme called Horizon 2020 and will be funded by the DG Connect, the telecommunications division of the European Commission, within the 5G Rail financing programme. “Within the next 30 months, we will start to prototype and to test the specifications that we have put together with all the key suppliers and railways. It will be the first time, at the end of this process, that we will have live trials with the real products and applications that we foresee for FRMCS,” Mr Evanghelou summed up.