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Is Spain showing railway 5G is gathering steam?

Is Spain showing railway 5G is gathering steam?

Private and public 5G at 10 Spanish rail terminals? Sounds a better idea than canning free passenger wi-fi to us.

Back in February, we detailed how 5G will both deliver annual economic benefits in the billions to European rail users—and make them all safer. Now, it looks like this is starting to happen.

Specifically, the main Spanish rail infrastructure operator, Adif Alta Velocidad (Adif AV)—the public corporation that constructs and manages the country’s high-speed railways under the supervision of the Spanish government—is decisively moving to connect, digitalise, and automate rail logistics centres.

According to the report, Cellnex and Nokia have won a €20.5m deal to build private and public 5G at 10 Spanish rail terminals—in fact, 10 different private 5G networks in 10 different logistics terminals. Each will use the 2300 MHz band--and alongside each, the telco partners will string-up public 5G coverage to connect rail lines around and between the terminals.

The proposed solution consists of two independent radio networks. The first is a private 5G radio network for Adif’s service provision and will be in the 2,300 MHz band throughout the terminal area. In parallel, there will also be a network for operator services--another public 5G network based on sharing radio access elements, deploying umbrella coverage throughout the terminal area in the 700 MHz band and provide coverage in the 3,500 MHz band in high-traffic density areas.

As the participants stress, “[This] will enable sustainable mobility by helping to interconnect the main transport nodes of the rail system… [to] revitalise rail transport, particularly freight… This infrastructure will guarantee advanced connectivity services for high-density environments, as well as bringing in various 5G technology applications which, among other things, will make it possible to use IoT networks, which are essential to monitoring critical assets.”

‘A next-generation wireless comms platform that multiple stakeholders can take advantage of’

In other words, a great shared infrastructure for operators--with Adif determined to ensure utilisation will be maximised by both business partners, but also the travelling (and indeed, station-adjacent) public and businesses. And all this very rich, high performant public 5G infrastructure will be available on a shared basis to telecoms operators to provide their services to “areas where deployment would not be economically viable at present.” 

This is significant because 5G as the new Spanish train comms standard will bring benefits like faster and more reliable connectivity compared to previous generations of mobile networks, high-resolution video surveillance, real-time monitoring of critical infrastructure, and remote control of railway systems—soon, if Adif wants, trains equipped with sensors and communication systems that transmit real-time data to control centres, enabling remote monitoring and control.

But we also love the imagination to create a next-generation wireless comms platform that multiple stakeholders can take advantage of, from commuters but also nearby businesses, suppliers of goods and services to the stations and rail network, local businesses. Who knows?

We want to see other governments do something similar—which makes the UK Government’s idea to take free wi-fi out of trains without a 5G upgrade even more absurd than it was already.

We’re sure Spanish rail ecosystem users will soon be reporting greater efficiency, safety, and overall passenger experience out of this move. Hopefully, that will lead to more rail sector 5G adoption, and all the huge potential of 5G moving, express train-like, from theory to concrete deployment and activity.