The recent project in Finland, to replace GSM-R for railway telecommunications with the Unified Railway Communication and Application (URCA) system, has won ‘Best Use of Communications in Transport’ at the International Critical Communications Awards (ICAA), held recently in Kuala Lumpur during Critical Communications World.
The ICAA focuses on excellence in the public safety sector, and 42 shortlisted entries were competing for just 10 awards. Industry experts on the judging panel praised Frequentis’ bearer-independent communications system (BIC) project for its interesting and innovative evolution from GSM-R (Global System for Mobile Communications – Railways) to the Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), hailing it an important integration project.
Frequentis implemented the URCA system for the Finnish Transport Agency, to fulfil its need for a cost-saving transitional solution to the future GSM-R replacement. Since February 2019, Finnish railway users have been able to use the Finnish Public Safety digital TETRA radio network and public mobile networks for all railway-specific communications. This allows greater flexibility to follow the future evolution of such networks, as well as ensuring less dependency on one specific communication standard.
“It is a great achievement to win this prestigious award for the best use of critical communications in transport’” said Thomas Karl, Frequentis’ vice president for public transport. “Over the past few years, we have evolved the Frequentis fixed terminal rail voice communication system, FTS 3020, into a multi-bearer solution for rail communications applications to operate not only with GSM-R but also TETRA and LTE radio networks. This provides bearer independence, allowing users to overcome increasing operational cost and technical issues.”
Finland had been one of the first railways in Europe to adopt GSM-R, but that also meant it was one of the first to need replacing. No pan-European system has yet been formalised, and anyway the GSM-R concept was to aid interoperability across borders – with Finnish railways running to the Russian gauge of 1520mm, there is no cross-border traffic with the rest of Europe. So the decision was made to switch to the TETRA-based VIRVE encrypted communications network already employed by the government, emergency services and military.
The contract also included voice recording and a special smartphone application, called RAPLI, which also allows the usage of the rail specific functions on the public mobile networks. Train radio has to be TETRA radio, based on an EU derogation, but all other mobile users can choose between the TETRA or public mobile network.