Huawei, Alstom complete 4G LTE Multi-Services Pilot Test for Railway Signaling

Huawei and Alstom, one of the world’s leading energy solutions and transport companies, have announced completion of live pilot test of 4G LTE multi-services based on Communications-based Train Control (CBTC), a railway signaling system based on wireless ground-to-train communication

The train has long been a subject of romance and adventure for many, though for some it’s just an everyday way to get back and forth to work. Whether it’s romantic or strictly utilitarian, some have noticed that it could be greatly improved with new technologies introduced into its everyday operations. Alstom, a company that deals in both energy and transport, has recently made a move toward improving the rail experience with a live pilot test of multi-services on French railways powered by 4G LTE access.

The successful pilot, which covered the unified multi-service capabilities of several systems including CBTC, Passenger Information System (PIS), and closed-circuit television (CCTV), marks a major step forward in the LTE commercialization of CBTC services.

The test in question, according to reports, was based on the Communications-based Train Control (CBTC) concept, a railway signaling system that runs on ground-to-train communications over wireless means. But Alstom’s version went beyond that, taking Huawei equipment and using it on static train sets under lab conditions. The tests were said to be conducted near Valenciennes, in the northern part of France, and focused not only on CBTC but also on passenger information systems, closed-circuit television, and several other options.

Alstom is the world’s first train manufacturer to integrate LTE 4G into its signaling system solution, the Urbalis Fluence CBTC solution, which greatly improves the suitability of eLTE, providing a converged ground-to-train wireless communication network for metro operations.

Huawei and Alstom together, meanwhile, are set to bring quite a bit of value to the rail service; not only is Huawei bringing in a 100Mbps eLTE network, but also network planning capability, broadband data services, and even voice trunking for mission critical systems. Alstom, meanwhile, brought in key technology integrations and on-board equipment that would work with LTE systems, as well as a train to contain the entire system. Huawei notes that using eLTE with CBTC train signaling, the end result would likely be lowered operation costs, lowered maintenance costs, and better access to passenger information, meaning that trips would be safer and more serviceable. Given that Huawei has already reportedly set up 111 such network contracts, as well as 53 live networks in 30 countries, it’s well-placed to make such suggestions, as is Alstom itself.

The LTE pilot project was launched after a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Huawei and Alstom in April 2014, which agreed to Huawei providing the eLTE network required for the pilot, and Alstom providing the train and LTE-compliant onboard equipment.

The pilot was carried out at metro lines near the Valenciennes commune area in France with Huawei optimizing the network planning, broadband data services, and mission critical voice trunking services, and Alstom providing the technology integration support. During the pilot, Huawei and Alstom jointly conducted several tests, including laboratory and static test on trains, dynamic test on metro tracks, and testing of eLTE multi-services capabilities.

Huawei first developed the eLTE broadband trunking solution with a focus on multimedia applications, voice trunking dispatching, and broadband data services based on 4G LTE standards to satisfy growing demands from the rail transportation industry.

Huawei’s eLTE solution enables metro operators to ensure safe train operations by leveraging eLTE-based CBTC train signals while providing mission critical voice trunking dispatching and broadband data services such as live video streaming of CCTV images and Passenger Information System (PIS). With the eLTE solution, metro operators are able to effectively reduce operation and maintenance cost as well as quickly obtain passenger information, therefore greatly improving the serviceability of trains.

Alstom, for its part, called the tests a big step toward putting LTE to work in commercializing CBTC services. Given that Alstom now represents the first ever such firm to use 4G LTE technology in a CBTC signaling solution, that’s a reasonable assessment. The use of such technology, Alstom noted, makes Huawei’s eLTE broadband trunking option an even better fit, as it was developed with the rail sector in mind, and focused on multimedia applications as well as voice trunking and broadband services.

To date, Huawei has signed 111 eLTE network contracts and established 53 eLTE commercial networks in more than 30 countries. Huawei’s eLTE solution has also been successfully deployed in a number of railways around the world.

Huawei’s eLTE solution, incorporating PIS and CCTV capabilities, has provided Zhengzhou Metro Line 1 with bidirectional, real-time and reliable wireless transmission channels for its ground-to-train voice, data and video services, improving the Line’s overall communication efficiency and operation capabilities. As a result, since beginning services in 2013, Zhengzhou Metro Line 1 has never encountered any major LTE equipment malfunctions.

In addition, by deploying the Huawei eLTE solution, the Shuo Huang Railway (SHR), approximately 600 kilometers in length, has been upgraded to deliver services including multi-locomotive synchronous control, train-to-ground wireless data communications, voice trunking dispatching and on-board video surveillance. As a result, Huang Shuo Railway has greatly improved its transport efficiency and increased its annual transport capacity from 200 to 350 million tons.

These are both heavy hitters in the transport and communications industries, so seeing the two work together means that something big is likely afoot. It’s hard to fault any move that means better overall service at lower operational and maintenance costs, so it’s just as likely that plenty of rail lines will have an interest in this technology when it’s finally ready for prime time. Given that it’s already been seen in several places—Huawei has already reportedly been at work on the Shuohuang Railway, a major link in China’s “heavy haulage network”—the time required to get it ready for other rail lines may not be all that long.