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Huawei’s GSM-R Solution Helps Zambia Build Africa’s First ERTMS Railway

The Chingola-Livingstone railway line, one of the key railway lines of ZRL, was built in the early twentieth century with a total length of 980 kilometers. It connects Lusaka with Chingola, a city in the northern copper-mining region, and Livingstone, the tourism centre for Victoria Falls in the southeast of Africa. Early in 2014, the Zambian government granted US$ 120 million to upgrade the signal-tracking capability of the Chingola-Livingstone railway line.

The existing communication system uses ultra high frequency (UHF) and very high frequency (VHF) wireless networks, which have poor voice quality, low operational efficiency, and severe co-channel interference. To address these problems, ZRL wants to upgrade the existing communication system with field-proven and reliable GSM-R.

Despite faster growth compared with other African countries, one of the most significant challenges to ZRL is how to achieve the best results in upgrading the communication system with limited funds. Therefore, the GSM-R solution must maximally reuse existing communication resources and offer a customized upgrade without compromising system reliability.

Huawei is offering a cutting-edge Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSM-R) solution for Zambia Railways Limited (ZRL) to reinvent the Chingola-Livingstone line into Africa’s first railway that complies with the European Train Control System Level 3 (ETCS L3) standard. The solution is expected to significantly improve railway operational efficiency and boost economic diversification along the railway line.

To uniformly carry ETCS Regional signal data and scheduling services, Huawei adopts the industry’s only Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA) soft-switch core network and Distributed Base Stations (DBS) technology. Multiple Huawei patented technologies, such as enhanced automatic frequency control (AFC) and network assisted cell change (NACC), are also employed to construct a highly reliable GSM-R train-to-ground communication platform. As a specialty to Zambia’s railway network that has inadequate fixed network and optical fiber resources, Huawei’s microwave technology is used to provide transmission channels for GSM-R signal data and the video surveillance system.

After detailed analysis of the service scenarios of Zambia’s railways and taking into consideration issues such as reliability and feasibility, Huawei offers a GSM-R solution that complies with the industry’s leading ETCS L3 standard. Compared with ETCS L1 and L2, ETCS L3 adopts the moving block concept that requires significantly fewer trackside devices (except for Balises). As the MA signals of trains are transmitted using the GSM-R wireless transmission technology, a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) is ensured for the entire system. Increased reliability is also realized through extensive use of redundancy measures.

Huawei’s GSM-R solution enables full wireless coverage over the railway. The solution enables hot standby for all network elements (NEs), including core network devices, by using a variety of approaches, such as mobile switching center (MSC) server dual homing and controller (BSC) geographical redundancy, and transceiver redundancy. To address the considerable distance between railway stations, the GSM-R solution leverages industry-leading power boost technology (PBT) and “soft-splitter” technology to expand base station coverage by more than 25%. Dual-channel microwave transmission replaces optical fiber transmission, reducing customer construction costs while ensuring system availability.

More importantly, the solution seamlessly integrates with UHF and VHF wireless networks and makes full use of existing communication resources, such as towers, equipment rooms, and power supply systems. End-to-end resource migration dramatically improves migration efficiency.

The Huawei GSM-R solution helps Zambia build Africa’s first ERTMS Regional railway line. The solution interworks perfectly with Bombardier’s ETCS-3 system, implementing reliable transmission of mission-critical services at highest level of reliability. Applying microwave transmission eliminates the need to deploy optical fiber resources between train stations, with radio transmission nodes (RTNs) delivering reliable backhaul of data over a maximum distance of 100 kilometers. Base stations support an extended ultra-long distance coverage of 15.3 kilometers, helping reduce the costs of associated construction by 50%.

Upon completion of this project, Huawei’s GSM-R solution will significantly enhance the transport capacity of the Livingstone-Chingola railway and accelerate economic growth along the line. Moreover, the ETCS L3-compliant GSM-R project will set a positive example for future projects across Zambia and its neighboring countries, and improve Zambia’s international profile.


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