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Huawei and PRASA Launches South Africa’s First GSM-R Rail Network Operation


[Johannesburg, South Africa, June 13, 2017] Huawei and Passenger Railway Agency of South Africa (PRASA) jointly announced the first rail operational Global System for Mobile Communications-Railway (GSM-R) network today at Africa Rail 2017, the largest and longest-running rail event in Africa held in Johannesburg, South Africa from 13th to 14th June.

The GSM-R system is a digital train to ground communication system following the international wireless GSM standard and EIRENE specifications for railway communication and applications. The GSM-R system put into operation is a sub-system of the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) and is used for operational voice and mission critical data communication between train and control centres. GSM-R is considered as the standard in railway communication and is widely used across the world. 

In 2013, Huawei in cornsortium with Altech Alcom Matomo was awarded the contract to supply PRASA with the latest digital wireless communication system for their commuter railways. Since then, PRASA and Huawei have worked in close partnership to deploy the first GSM-R network in South Africa, which spans over 800km and 152 stations across the country. 

The Huawei-Alcom Consortium (HAC)’s end-to-end GSM-R solution offers mission critical rail operational voice and data functions which enable train drivers, controllers, signalling engineers and crew members to perform day-to-day railway operations more efficiently and reliably. It will also provide communication services to automatic train protection systems and introduce the ability for semi-automatic train driving capacity in the network, thereby further improving reliability and safety of the rail operation. In turn, this will significantly improve customer satisfaction and safety for all passengers.

The solution is composed of state-of-the-art IP soft switch core network that dramatically improves data transmission efficiency, simplifies network management tasks, reduces operating costs, and support smooth evolution from the legacy to the Future Railway Mobile Communication Systems (FRMCS) which is currently being specified by the International Union of Railways (UIC). Huawei’s well known distributed base station technology implements quick and flexible GSM-R network coverage in places such as Railway Servitude including tunnels, cuttings and at level crossings. In addition, multiple Remote Radio Unit (RRU) co-cell technology has been applied to expand cell coverage, reduce cell handovers and save a large amount of optical fiber resources. At the same time, this improves radio quality compared to conventional solutions.

To enable ultra-long-distance GSM-R radio coverage across provinces, ensure reliable railway operation and facilitate interworking between multi-vendor devices, an end-to-end, network-wide redundancy design was implemented. The base transceiver stations (BTSs) of the access network form a ring topology to protect against faults in transmission links through transmission network redundancy. Additionally, base station controller (BSC) were deployed for each of the three regions (occupied by Western Cape, Kwa Zulu Natal and Gauteng)accommodating for BSC remote disaster recovery procedures, further improving the resiliency and reliability of the GSM-R network. Huawei’s solution adopts patented hot-standby mechanisms for all network elements (NEs) of the GSM-R network and co-site dual-network technology, coupled with a Synchronous Digital Hierarchy (SDH) network.

 “We are proud to share this historic milestone with Huawei - HAC. This partnership has been instrumental in enabling PRASA to achieve its railway operation improvement objectives in order to ensure that we deliver dignified rail services to all our people,” says Mr. Piet Sebola, PRASA Group Executive of Strategic Asset Development.

Chairman of the eLTE Industry Alliance and Marketing Director of the Transport Sector for Huawei Enterprise Business Group, Norman Frisch, says “Huawei’s GSM-R system will help not only the South African railway network enter the cutting-edge digital age, but will also play a pivotal role in the planning and building future railway networks across South Africa and its neighboring countries.” 

Huawei’s rail solutions cover 100,000km of railway around the world and serve over 50 urban rail lines and more than 60 partners in the railway industry. With the principle of "Openness, Cooperation and Win-Win", Huawei is committed in their collaboration with partners for comprehensive and joint innovation in building end-to-end solutions to drive railway companies towards digital transformation.