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Railroad GSM-R Interference Worries in Europe

05 April 2011

The railway industry in Europe is concerned about interference from other frequency users into GSM use on trains for safety and operational purposes.

Railroad GSM-R Interference Worries in Europe

The railway industry in Europe is concerned about interference from other frequency users into GSM use on trains, called GSM-R, in the 900 MHz mobile bands. This is not, however, interference to individual users of mobile telephony, but to the more important safety and operational aspects of railroad use of radio spectrum. “GSM-R” is the standardized interoperable European radio system for safety related railway applications - ETCS train-control (data) and Train Radio (voice). The European Commission Radio Spectrum Committee on March 23, 2011 released a comprehensive presentation from industry sources entitled “Interferences into GSM-R due to public mobile radio networks (PDF).”

Apparently GSM-R has been rolled out extensively in Europe. The presentation says that over 160,000 km of rail will be covered with GSM-R by 2016 in Europe; 60,000 Km are already in operation with 40,430 Cab Radios and 118.000 handhelds being used.

With this growth, the industry also is seeing growing levels of interference, which the presentation describes for situations in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Belgium, France, The Netherlands and United Kingdom.

Looking at the issues from another perspective, the GSMA, representing mobile telephone operators, send their own submission to the RSCom meeting (PDF). In a presentation posted on March 31 on the RSCom site, the GSMA said that "[t]he current regulatory framework is sufficient to address the number of coexistence issues reported so far...."

In other action, the Electronic Communications Committee (ECC) of the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations adopted amendments on March 11 to the older ECC Decision on GSM-R. The new amendments are contained in amended Decision(02)09 (PDF), with the justification:

This Decision is intended to provide a basis for administrations to the free circulation and use of GSM-R mobile terminals, in the specified frequency bands, under the same principles as described in ERC/DEC/(95)01, as it is essential to be able to use common railway radio equipment in different countries in a common frequency band as well as for border crossing traffic.

The bottom line is that the railway industries are taking steps towards seeking regulation at all levels to protect their use of these GSM-R services. This matter has now been discussed at three consecutive RSCom meetings, from October 2010 up to the most recent meeting in March. So far it seems that the regulators at the EU level are taking a watchful waiting approach to see if national EU Member State efforts are sufficient or if interference concerns continue.

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