On June 9, the Union Cabinet approved the allotment of 5 MHz in the 700 MHz band to the Indian Railways. This is considered to be a game changer for the railways.
The allocation of the new spectrum opens up the 4G network for the national transporter. It would help in overhauling its signalling system.
Here is a look at what all changes it will bring about and how technology has evolved in the Indian Railways.
How will 4G spectrum help ordinary passengers?
Safety, first and foremost. It will help the Indian Railways shift to the Automatic Train Protection (ATP) system.
The advantages of ATP systems are many. It helps technological intervention in preventing accidents due to collision, jumping of signals (SPAD, or signal passing at danger, in railway parlance) and over-speeding, to name only a few.
How can the ATP system prevent rail accidents?
The ATP system will monitor the speed of trains and activate emergency brakes through a satellite-based control system based on signals. This system also has anti-collision technology that relies on GPS data from satellites for position updates. To upgrade to this technology, the Railways need higher frequency spectrum.
What about WiFi connectivity?
The 4G spectrum will be used for implementing voice, internet of things-based asset monitoring services, passenger information display system and live feed of video surveillance of a few coaches at a time.
The new spectrum will also help in increasing the line capacity to accommodate more trains using the existing infrastructure. The introduction of new technologies will also reduce freight transportation cost. The railways has already introduced the WiFi system in more than 6,000 railway stations. The new spectrum is expected to give a push to these plans, along with the plans to provide onboard WiFi.
What is GSM-Railways?
The world started experimenting with the GSM-based railway standard, GSMR (GSM for Railways), in the early 1990s. For commercial adaptation of GSMR, the European Integrated Radio Enhanced Network (EIRENE) project was initiated in 1992 by the International Union of Railways. Till the mid-1990s, India was dependent on manual signalling systems. The Indian Railways is now set to overhaul its 167-year-old signalling system by moving towards the ATP systems.
Has the shift to GSM-R helped?
Even after the implementation of GSM-R, the signalling system was largely based on the red and green signalling codes along the tracks. Now, the national transporter is gearing up for a large-scale launch of two ATP systems -- European Train Control System (ETCS) and Train Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).
How did the Indian Railways’ signalling system evolve?
At present, the Railways has 1.6 MHz (paired) spectrum in the 900 MHz band on an administrative basis for captive usage for its GSM-R network. Due to the limited availability of spectrum, only 1.6 MHz (8 spots of 200 KHz) were allocated to the railways.
Since the railways was dependent on manual signalling before that, limitation of frequencies had no major impact on network design. The implementation of GSM-R brought in various railway-specific features and functionalities, including voice-broadcast calls, voice group calls and functional numbering, thereby increasing the safety of the network.
Finally, how are spectrum charges levied?
Spectrum charges may be levied on a formula prescribed by the Department of Telecommunications for the payment of royalty and licence fee for captive use, as recommended by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.