5G is all set to play an important role in wireless communication for railway networks and trains.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in developing rail transportation. The European Union, for instance, has plans to focus significantly on improving railway networks as part of its ambitious plans to achieve smarter transportation. But for such plans to work, effective wireless communication in trains with the right network hardware that comply with global standards and uses advanced technology like 5G is critical.
As train travel attracts more interest in the future, rail operators will have to differentiate themselves from their competition
. Improving their services to the customers and increasing capacity through wireless communication technology are two key steps to increase market share. Below we examine some of these applications and how 5G could make a difference.
Communications-based train control
The number of people living in urban areas continues to rise at a rapid pace. This creates an increase in demand for transport systems like the metro rail. COVID-19 may have allowed some people to move out of cities, but as many companies are expected to follow a hybrid system that combines work-from-home and work-from-office, frequent train trips to cities could also pick up.
What this means is that rail operators must work on increasing their capacity. Communications-based train control (CTBC) enables them to do this, using wireless technology that allows communication between the train and tracks infrastructure. Although CTBC is mostly used in urban metro rails, it has tremendous potential in commuter lines too.
Video surveillance systems
CCTV cameras in trains are no longer a novelty. But unlike earlier days when video surveillance cameras were used only to capture footage for forensic purposes, operators now prefer live-streaming features to deal with real-time problems. Streaming may be continuous or activated when there are incidents like a fire, use of a panic button, etc.
The use of CCTV in trains makes passengers feel safer and more comfortable. They also help rail operators ensure the protection of their equipment.
Passenger information systems
Time is of the essence in today’s world. Modern transportation operators must understand that the ease of internet access has made passengers accustomed to remaining up-to-date on information. For instance, when a train is delayed, passengers need to know how long they must wait. This is where passenger information systems become relevant.
Passenger information systems often use an LCD screen. When there is no information to convey, these LCD screens may show advertisements, acting as an additional revenue generator for rail companies.
Revising standards with advantages of 5G
Although technologies like IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi have been the most common in rail until now, the arrival of 5G could revolutionize railway operations. Authorities worldwide are increasingly focusing their efforts to develop Future Railway Mobile Communication Systems (FRMCS) that would replace existing standards and make use of new technology to improve rail operations. 5G is set to play a major role in this.
The telecom company Nokia, for instance, explains in a whitepaper that 5G can help operators make the most of FRMCS. 5G makes communications extremely reliable and offers low latency. Operators in Europe are expected to use 5G-enabled FRMCS as early as 2025.
Mission-critical applications like CBTC cannot afford to have communication loss of more than a few seconds. The reliability of 5G makes it ideal for this. When it comes to CCTV cameras, the onboard systems must have high uplink throughput, while those in platforms require high downlink throughput. 5G would prove to be the ideal candidate for this too.
The factors mentioned above are only the tip of the iceberg
. Other compelling reasons that make the use of 5G attractive in railway is the need for increased automation. Industries across sectors are striving to achieve greater automation of their processes to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and ensure better safety. Automated Train Operation (ATO) is already a reality in many places. However, certain challenges still limit its widespread adoption. Predictive maintenance is another application that is becoming more and more popular. With the help of 5G, more such applications are expected to become standard.