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How 5G will deliver annual economic benefits in the billions to European rail users—and make them all safer

5G will deliver annual economic benefits in the billions to European rail users—and make them all safer

What’s the impact of eliminating wired connections are rail crossings? Can 5G deliver real, tangible benefits? Or are we talking about yet more puffery?

In our previous post, A significant set of numbers: real 5G savings and real 5G economic benefits identified in two traditional industries, we started to share some hard numbers that have emerged about the potential of 5G as not a creator of sui generis new fancy-ass applications and whizzy leading-edge use sci-fi use cases, but to save hard, hard numbers in two key industry verticals—rail and energy.

As you may have seen, these are numbers that have come out of two recent EU-funded projects funded by a scheme called H2020 5Growth, which was a now-concluded €14m fund exploring the use of 5G in selected vertical industries.

Overall, 5Growth had 19 partners and saw pilots in Spain, Italy, and Portugal, but the pilots we are particularly interested in are what happened in a small city in the latter county at a power, engineering, and mobility firm called EFACEC Power Solutions. As previously stated, two vertical sector applications of potential 5G economic uplift were studied, rail and energy distribution.

The transportation vertical pilot at the transport arm of EFACEC was to explore the possible positive impact of using 5G slicing to replace the current use of wired communication networks used in the rail sector at level crossings. Two use cases were explored, safety critical communications (so, signals) and non-safety, which here was pumping level crossing video images in real time to controllers to see if that had any effect.

On the safety critical side, the team wanted to see if switching to 5G for communications from approaching train detectors (called ‘Strike In detectors’ in the business) at level crossings, now done almost wholly over copper, was a good idea. The real test here for 5G was independent network slices and Ultra-reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) as the basis for isolated, reliable, and high-performing connections at a public network deployment.

The main sought-after benefit here might be lower infrastructure and maintenance costs once you stopped looking after all that cabling, thought the researchers, while for the video proof of concept, 5G-delivered video might make level crossings generally safer was the hypothesis.

Going in, the team set some high bars for success—marking results against ideal benefits like overall CAPEX coming down by 20%, system installation cost and time being halved, cable cost dropping by 80% (as less need for it), a 20% cut in the need for engineers to maintain a 5G system and a 20% uptick in service response time.

Well… did they get what they wanted? Not included in that original list was improved passenger safety—not a dollars and cents metric, but a pretty important one to society. Strikingly, the writers believe the use of 5G in level crossing scenarios will both boost overall  safety by 5% for level crossing users, and reduce the number of train accidents. 

These benefits can have a significant impact in the costs associated with damages but also human lives—and if Europe built 60,000 new generation level crossings (automated and supporting advanced communication technologies; upgrading one will cost around EU150,000), which might cost a billion euros, we could see an overall safety benefit of 50 billion euros a year (from reduced damage and insurance costs).

Less dramatic but still very impressive, going 5G per level crossing would save EU40,000 per year for every level crossing in Europe on digging up and managing cable and over EU6000 per level crossing in curbed cable spend. In maintenance terms, that 20% figure does get hit, resulting in EU200,000 savings per level crossing a year, and 9% less money needing to be spent per site on the network operations bill.

But here’s the biggie: 5G in rail in the contexts covered potentially add up to a ‘total Europe’ figure of EU2.5 billion (EU2,477,229,000) worth of economic benefits—from fewer train accidents to lower site maintenance cost and slimmed-down network operational costs compared to today’s cable and 4G environment--and EU2.3 billion (EU2,278,946,000 for the EU alone).

You may not agree with the methodology or would want to question some of the assumptions.

But if even half these benefits were achieved, surely no-one could still see no value in using 5G to solve problems and improve workflows in every industry?

Link to this.