Antonio Sequeira, Vice President Market Management Railway at HUBER + SUHNER, explains how to overcome unprecedented demand in the railway industry

The use of fibre optic (FO) technology within railway operations is no longer a new concept. The industry has experienced a rapid digitalisation rollout due to the increasing requirements of operators and passengers. On-board networks need to be able to manage the rising demand for high bandwidth services, specifically 4K media streaming, Close-Circuit Television (CCTV), and in-carriage Wi-Fi connectivity.

HUBER+SUHNER has been at the forefront of developing and delivering fibre optic solutions since the early nineties and continues to be the market leader in this field today, offering resilient, adaptable, customisable, and easy-to-install solutions. Yet, despite the tried and tested FO technologies on offer, there has previously been some hesitancy in deploying these, with operators continuing to rely on legacy solutions which are unsuitable for modern demands. The benefits that come from the working solutions provided by HUBER+SUHNER prove, however, that FO solutions are, and will remain, an entirely appropriate technology for the rail industry both now and in the future.

Optimised connectivity
One of the biggest demands on modern public transportation is the need for reliable wireless train communication. The necessity for constant connectivity within the everyday lives of passengers has become so vital that this is now also expected on public transport. This means that both the railway and communications industries must work together to develop robust, scalable, and reliable on-board wireless connectivity infrastructures.

FO technology offers a high-speed solution for communication superior to traditional copper wire cables. In an FO solution, coded information is sent via a beam of light over a glass or plastic pipe. This is a quicker and more efficient method than sending radio waves down a copper wire, which can struggle to handle 1Gbit of data. Today FO solutions can manage 10Gbit of data, with the potential to handle over 100Gbit depending on the application.

FO solutions can also overcome electrostatic and electromagnetic interferences (EMI) – a previous stumbling block in delivering connectivity. In spite of the shielding on the twisted-pair copper cables commonly used on trains over the years, EMI can still be generated in areas next to or close to vital electrical equipment. In order to maintain transmission reliability at a high rate, the protection against these signal disturbances must come in the form of glass fibres. These are resistant to interference and are galvanically isolated, meaning any disruption will have no effect on performance.

Solutions built to last
But it is not just today’s trends and challenges that are bringing FO solutions to the fore of railway communications. With the longevity of rolling-stock equipment and the rapid evolution of communication technologies, any network infrastructure installed on any railway system must now be a viable solution for the next decade and beyond. The copper cabling historically installed in railway systems limited network upgrades, as a change of cabling was required. This placed unnecessary restrictions on operators who, in order to scale up operations, would have to frequently take stock out of service. With today’s FO solutions, a single pair of fibre cores can comfortably scale up to 40GBASE or even 100GBASE operations in the future without any cabling change, effortlessly increasing efficiency and future-proofing the infrastructure without recurrent disruption to operations.

And rail operators previously hesitant to use such technology on-board its rolling stock – due to the specific operating parameters they must follow – can be assured that FO solutions have been
developed and tested to withstand the exact same requirements as legacy copper systems, while offering increased performance and reliable high-data rate transmission. Such future-ready solutions not only fit seamlessly within the existing parameters but improve upon them: FO cabling is 40 per cent lighter than a traditional Cat7 cable, providing a lighter, compact solution that reduces any issues that arise from the ageing of track infrastructure and braking systems.

A greener and cost-effective approach
Using FO solutions as opposed to legacy copper cabling has also proven to be a more environmentally friendly solution. Certified fibre optic technicians have testified that FO cables have the capacity to greatly conserve energy. Traditional copper wire solutions are known to generate a substantial amount of heat, due to the metal’s low specific heat capacity. As a result, excess energy is lost, and these systems often require cooling systems in order to prevent any problems from occurring. FO cabling on the other hand requires no such cooling system, as minimal energy is lost to the environment due to fibreglass having a significantly higher specific heat capacity.

This benefit is not only an environmentally friendly advantage but also makes FO solutions cost-effective. The high bandwidth scalability of optical fibre means that the initial investment can be paid back quickly, while unnecessary costs relating to upgrading or maintaining older communication technologies are also cut. The nature of a train’s infrastructure is a bottleneck for any upgrade, so the cost of materials and lost revenue during changes can have a big impact on return of investment. However, with the scalability of FO solutions offering a faster implementation of new communication systems, any network can be kept up to date with minimal costs.

Keeping up to date is vitally important in a sector that is reliant on the latest technological developments. Such developments include the smart technologies that are now well-established within the industry and are embedded for a number of different purposes within rail operations. By embracing the age of the Internet-of-Things (IoT), rail operators can fight off competition from alternative modes of transport such as buses and airlines and generate new revenue streams in the era of smart railways.

Establishing a ‘future ready’ network
An online experience on the move must now mirror the connectivity customers and operators are used to in their homes – and the rail and communications industries must find solutions that enable this. For both legacy stock and brand-new trains, it is vital that on-board networks are able to manage the increasing demand for high bandwidth services, and FO solutions like the ones developed by HUBER+SUHNER are key to enabling this.

As long as the railway sector remains adverse to change and maintains its traditionally risk-averse approach to infrastructure, the rising demand for connectivity will be unmet. Operators must move away from the outdated copper solutions present in the networks of yesteryear and embrace the ‘future-ready’ FO technologies already helping to establish more consistent, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly services around the world.

Tel: 01869364100