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'Gigabit Innovation Track' (GINT) Gets Green Light in Germany

Couple of years back I blogged about how Deutsche Bahn and Deutsche Telekom (DT) are radically improving mobile reception on trains in Germany with the expectation that in future, passengers using the DT network will be able to make calls and surf the internet on all routes without interruption – in much better quality than currently available.

Now in another announcement, Deutsche Bahn (DB), Ericsson, O2 Telefónica and Vantage Towers have announced that they are working together to develop a solution that would establish an extensive 5G mobile communications infrastructure along train tracks in Germany. The press release said:

The new infrastructure will give train passengers gigabit speeds for their telephone and data connections and provide high-performance transmission technology for further digitalizing rail operations. Today the partners received the official word from the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport (BMDV) that they will receive funding to test innovative technology for mobile communications coverage along tracks.

The BMDV will provide some EUR 6.4 million to support Gigabit Innovation Track (GINT) as an important component of the German government's gigabit strategy. The GINT partners plan to develop technical and financial options for high-performance and sustainable 5G mobile coverage along tracks.

Rail travellers increasingly expect excellent data and mobile communications service to be a standard feature on trains. But data usage poses a challenge. Modern office and entertainment applications use an enormous amount of data, and this will only continue to increase in the coming years. Experts estimate that as soon as the early 2030s, we will need data rates of up to 5 gigabits per second per train between the towers along the track and passing trains for passengers on board to experience telephone and data service with the level of quality that mobile communications will be expected to meet. That quality is multiple times faster than the speeds currently possible using today's LTE technology.

The partners plan to find out by the end of 2024 how to achieve the high transmission rates that will be needed in the future and how to build the necessary infrastructure in a way that minimizes the use of resources. Part of the project will involve creating a test area along a roughly ten kilometer section of track in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania to test technological approaches and options in practice. Plans call for ten innovative towers of different designs to be built to provide uninterrupted gigabit coverage for the line.

The technology being tested includes different designs of towers, including towers that can be securely screwed into the ground without the need for costly, less sustainable concrete foundations. And that saves time and cuts CO2.

To provide gigabit coverage for rail passengers, the project partners will also test 5G on O2 Telefónica's 3.6 gigahertz frequencies. These frequencies enable especially fast mobile data transmission, but with a shorter range than today's 4G. One tower covers only around one kilometer of rail line, which means that around 20,000 new towers are needed along tracks throughout Germany. The Future Rail Mobile Communication System (FRMCS), with its dedicated 1900 megahertz band, will also require additional towers.

The project team is therefore also developing proposals for operator and cooperation models for the rail and mobile communications industries and tower operators, which, for example, would allow towers to be shared for FRMCS connections and 5G coverage for passengers without distorting competition. This would reduce construction time, resources and costs. The project's findings will help policymakers design the 5G rollout along tracks and the funding scheme.

It would be interesting to see how this progresses and if it manages to achieve the goals as envisaged currently.

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