The rail industry is at the forefront of the mission-critical communication revolution and it will have a range of supremely reliable solutions packed with rich communication features.
Mission control and telecommunications has never been so important. As the fleet number, maximum speed, and route options of trains around the world continue to increase, the capability to keep track of them reliably becomes ever more crucial.
We sat down with Sagi Subocki, Vice President of Products & Marketing at Softil, to talk about the sector's current heading and the new standards and technologies in Mission Critical Communications that allow companies to measure their fleet's speed, bearing, location, and even maintenance status down to the meter.
First off, a bit of background: what’s the history of Softil?
Softil was formed over 25 years ago as the Technology Business Unit (TBU) of Radvision, an IP Videoconferencing pioneer. Radvision was acquired by Avaya in 2012, TBU was subsequently bought out by Spirent in 2014, and then Softil separated from Spirent in 2017. Since that time, we have supplied standard compliant enabling IP communications technology to more than 800 businesses worldwide, from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups.
From the early days, Softil was focused on open standards, participating in the development of the various IP communications standards in ITU-T, IETF, 3GPP, and other SDOs, as well as being a part of the development of interoperability of standards-based technologies via participation and leadership in various industry forums, such as IMTC, IMS Forum, SIP Forum, MEF, and others.
For the past several years, Softil has focused on the development of 3GPP-based mission-critical communications, including active participation in 3GPP SA6 (Mission Critical Communications working group) and relevant industry consortiums, such as TCCA, PSTA, and iCERT. Softil became the first company to offer a commercial software development kit (SDK) to vendors of MCX and LTE-R solutions.
What are some of your most noteworthy projects and clients?
From its early days, Softil has partnered with many large and very large companies including Intel, Samsung, Motorola, and Oracle. The foundation of our customer success lies in the quality of the product, quality and capability of the support which Softil offers, and our mantra to strict adherence to standards and development of interoperability solutions.
Siemens Communications became a customer of Softil in 1998, and this last August, Siemens Mobility decided to adopt Softil’s BEEHD client framework to bring mission critical communications solutions to LTE-R rail networks, as well as other mission critical communications such as metro applications like underground/tram, buses, and others.
In South Korea, Hoimyung was the first company to build a train communications terminal using Softil’s BEEHD SDK, which subsequently went into service in the early 2018 to serve the new train line built for the winter Olympic games in Pyongchang. Other South Korean companies, including K-Won and Daeoyun, have since licensed Softil’s BEEHD SDK to build their LTE-R solutions.
Outside the rail industry, Softil technology is widely-used to power many known critical communications, telco communications and enterprise IP communications solutions – for example, the first-ever Vonage VoIP phone was powered by TI chipset with Softil SDK on it, Samsung used Softil technology in its pioneering videoconferencing products, and Foxconn used BEEHD technology to create smartphones called Luna with support for VoLTE and ViLTE (Standard Voice and Video LTE).
Tell me a bit more about your BEEHD technology, and what it offers operators that other similar solutions don’t (be descriptive, not sales-y)
BEEHD is an SDK, an API library for developers, which can run on multiple platforms (Android, iOS, Linux, OSX/MAC, Windows). BEEHD provides all of the essential functionality to create standards-based voice and video IP communication solutions which can be easily deployed in IMS/LTE/LTE-R/VoLTE/ViLTE/MCPTT/MCX networks. BEEHD provides a high level of so-called Quality of Experience on all different platforms as it supports a large number of media quality mechanisms intended specifically to be used in all IP networks.
BEEHD is optimized to take advantage of available hardware quality support mechanisms, such as platform-optimized audio and video codecs. BEEHD is also optimized to support standards-based KPIs, such as those defined by 3GPP standards, as well as carrier-specific KPIs.
Most important for developers is Softil’s technology strict standard compliancy. The BEEHD is committed to backwards compatibility - implementors can integrate BEEHD once, and as the standard evolves, the same API’s are continuously maintained so moving to a newer version of the standard is simple – just take out the older BEEHD library and put in the new, and vendors are compliant with the latest LTE-R/MCX standards.
What industry challenges do you identify as the most pressing ones, and how is Softil tackling them?
One of the main challenges in the industry is to ensure that all new IP communications solutions for railways will be based on the same foundation of compliance with open international standards -- namely the 3GPP MCX/MCPTT -- to guarantee interoperability of best-of-breed solutions of all vendors.
Another challenge lies in the fact that by its nature, trains cross boundaries of different countries with different service providers and different levels of standard implementation, which makes achieving a universal solution in places like Europe, with all its differing train networks, much more challenging. This is why we see first deployments of the technology in single countries such as South Korea and Australia, where the technology can be deployed end-to-end and there are no concerns of cross-border interoperability.
What security improvements, specifically, does your LTE-R system offer over the current GSM-R standard?
The latest series of 3GPP MCX standards for LTE, LTE-R, and 5G networks were designed with strong security in mind starting from the security offered by IMS layers (AKA-MD5 and so on) to the MCX-specific algorithms such as Mikey-Sakke, payload encryption, end-to-end encryption, and many others. All of the standards-based security mechanisms are supported by Softil’s BEEHD.
Is there any upcoming breakthroughs or trends in the MCC area that gets you excited?
What is exciting about the evolving MCC arena is that this technology is powered by ubiquitous IP communication networks. That means that even while providing what it was first developed for – emergency and non-emergency group communication capabilities - the technology can take advantage of many other IP-based communication paradigms and mechanisms, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Industrial IoT (IIoT), Internet of Everything, Cloud computing (including analytics), Edge Computing, 5G networks, and many other IP communications-enabled technologies. The high-speed moving train can communicate to railways, other trains, and all IoT enabled signals, controls, sensors, and actuators, making all of the human-driven IP group communications much more precise and effective.
Are you involved with the air, naval, or any other transportation/logistic/security sectors? Can you tell me a bit about them?
Paraphrasing the words of Softil’s CEO, Pierre Hagendorf, the rail industry is at the forefront of the mission-critical communication revolution and it will have a range of supremely reliable solutions packed with rich communication features. At the same time, 3GPP MCX/MCPTT standards are created to enable all types of MCC communications in the utility, transportation, air, naval, and other sectors where IP-enabled group communication is vital.
Softil is very excited about opportunities in these sectors (mining, transportation, air and naval possibly powered by the satellite-enabled MCC communications) – but it is all in the initial stages at the moment.
To meet the industry's top experts and decision makers in the field of Mission Control, telecommunications, and more, book your ticket now and join us at SmartMetro Madrid, on November 25-27th!