Connecting the Internet of Trains

Author : Martin Frederiksen | Managing Director | Recab UK

01 May 2021

RECAB_railway interconnectivity
RECAB_railway interconnectivity

Gordon E. Moore, one of the co-founders of chipmaker, Intel, famously predicted that the computing capacity of a microchip would double every two years, in what is now known as Moore’s Law. Despite having faster computers & phones, train passengers have, in the past, not been able to benefit from stable internet access throughout their journeys.

The full version of this article was originally featured in the May 2021 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Here, Martin Frederiksen, Managing Director of embedded computing specialist, Recab UK explores the technological changes in onboard rail computing that will allow railway customers to be connected to the internet and stream high-quality content.

The age of railway connectivity is upon us. Consumers nowadays expect a library of streaming videos and a reliable internet connection when they take their seats on a train. This poses a two-pronged challenge for railway companies. One is how to provide a stable internet connection on the journey. The second is, for their streaming platforms, they have to upload, store and distribute large amounts of content to their customers. Fortunately, innovations in embedded computing turn modern trains into rolling edge servers.

Connecting you now
The International Union of Railways and its member countries are developing a new communications standard for trains, which will be trialled from 2023. The Future Railway Mobile Communication System (FRMCS) is designed to succeed the existing standard, which was developed about 20 years ago and is beginning to reach its technological limits — especially with regards to the amount of data that can be transmitted on the basis of this technology. The new standard will be phased in from 2025.

One of the most promising features of FRMCS is that it has been designed with interoperability in mind. The standard is bearer independent, which means it will work with 5G, Wi-Fi and even satellite communications. Moreover, it is designed to work together with other global telecommunications standards. What all this means is that once technology based on FRMCS is installed on trains, technologies from infotainment to smart maintenance will be able to draw on fast and reliable data connections.

Mind the edge
Edge servers have become essential parts of networks that rely on real-time transfers of data between onboard devices and centralised, stationary servers. They allow data to be stored on the edge of a network to provide quick, reliable and easy access to information. On trains, such servers are used to store films for on-demand delivery of infotainment.

These servers are as useful for operators as they are for passenger entertainment. Edge devices on trains also support on-board passenger information systems, giving those travelling on the train important information about journey duration, the latest news and any safety information that needs to be communicated quickly. These systems are by no means new, but they are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as embedded computing units become able to process greater amounts of data, while also having faster, more reliable Ethernet connectivity.

From a design perspective, a handful of units and components are needed to support an on-board passenger information system. For the data processing and program execution, a fanless box PC is required that can meet the harsh operating conditions and remain fit-for-use for years in advance...

Read the full article in EPDT's May 2021 digital issue...

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