CCW 2018: Moving Forward in the Transport Sector

Part 6 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to Critical Communications World 2018

Outside the emergency services, it is difficult to find a sector as reliant on critical communications than transportation. The efficient flow of aircraft, trains and ships depends on the coordination of extensive mobile field forces dispersed across broad geographies. With lives and property at stake, the communications requirements are mission-critical and call for robust, high-performance communications systems. Beyond life safety issues, however, the contributions these systems offer towards improved customer experience is significant. Team coordination can reduce transportation delays or quickly bring resources to bear on a customer problem. With an expanding TETRA footprint and advances in mobile broadband communication, transportation sector communications technology continues to evolve, and Critical Communications World provides a valuable viewport into the state-of-the-art.

Several trends drive the shifting communications requirements in the transportation sector. Old transportation networks -- transit rail and bus -- with out-dated communications systems are turning to modern systems with equipment refresh programs that increasingly take advantage of TETRA. Long haul rail transport in many parts of the world relies upon GSM-R, a variation of GSM, for train and wayside communications. Yet these systems are aging, and rail operators now look forward to future LTE or 5G based technologies to secure more flexibility and higher performance. For passenger-facing staff in an airline, long-distance rail or urban transit operations, LTE-based devices that integrate voice and data communications brings the promise of improved customer experience that boosts competitiveness.

To be sure, the future shift of railway systems from GSM-R to LTE/5G remains a long way off. While some proprietary deployments have already been fielded by Huawei for a freight rail system in China, planning for a 3GPP standards-based approach began as a study item in 3GPP Release 15. Requirements and architecture definition is the first step in the long process of crafting harmonized standards that drive scale and foster interoperability across the industry. The latest version of 3GPP TR 22.889 "Study on Future Railway Mobile Communication System" describes a wide variety of use cases that include voice communications, emergency alerts, Automatic Train Control (ATC), video streaming and more. 

Even before standardized LTE and 5G take hold in the rail transport sector, TETRA is showing value as a communications platform. Several sessions at Critical Communications World will spotlight these advances. Leonardo is sponsoring a presentation by officials from Singapore's Land Transport Authority (LTA). The LTA officials will review the deployment of TETRA communications on a fully automated and driverless urban transit rail line. Another interesting case study from Australian rail operator Aurizon will examine TETRA deployment in support of railway operations. DAMM supplied more than 70 TETRA sites to replace a legacy analog system supporting 2,670 kilometers of railway infrastructure across Central Queensland. 

Governments are also modernizing bus communications to drive efficiencies and improve the customer experience.  At Critical Communications World, Motorola Solutions will describe how a TETRA radio system is transforming bus and tram intermodal operations across the German Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region. The other mega project featured in the Critical Communications World program is the Transport for London (TfL) effort to upgrade the massive 10,000 bus fleet from an analog to DMR-based digital radio communications. The unique approach leverages Tait's UnifyVehicle platform that enables an on-bus network of networks such as DMR voice, cellular and WiFi. The platform allows for customized data applications in support of TfL requirements. 

Air transport innovation appears at Critical Communications World, as well. French efforts to foster private LTE networks in support of industry have progressed under the leadership of the Association des Grands Utilisateurs de Réseaux Radio d’Exploitation (AGURRE) industry consortium. AGURRE members will describe the objectives and target frequency bands. Air France will review an valuable early test of an LTE-based critical communications solution supporting aircraft engineering, maintenance and ground operations. 

 The future of LTE-based transportation systems is taking shape and becoming clearer with each passing year. The journey, however, is a long one and proven digital communications systems such as TETRA and DMR remain foundations for safe and efficient operations. The in-depth Critical Communications World sessions will deliver rare opportunities for attendees to match hype with reality.