Luke Upton (LU): Many thanks for the time today, perhaps as a means of an introduction you can tell us a little about what you are focussing on at the moment?
Emanuele Di Liberto (EDL): It’s a very busy time for us at the moment. More than ever ICT technologies have become central for the enterprise and public sectors in order to improve their operations, and the railways are no different. We’ve historically been the communication technology partner of choice in hundreds of mission critical projects in the last couple of decades and in more recent years successfully introduced our ultra-broadband solutions, representing at the same time a future proof investment and a proven platform to carry securely and reliably vital operational data. Also, the Enterprise and Public Sector markets represent for Alcatel-Lucent an important engine for diversification and growth, and the company is investing substantially in expanding even further our customer base serving today in excess of 450 customers, of which about 100 belong to the Transportation domain.
The Infrastructure Managers and Railroads Authorities that we work with want to be taken further, better leverage ICT and the cutting-edge technology we deliver can support them along this journey of innovation.
Let me give you an example, many railways have traditionally run several siloed cabled networks, each of them dedicated to support a specific service, which could be signalling or security or internal communication. Same approach have been followed for the radio communication networks, and in Paris as an example RATP has historically one wireless system for the on board train control, one for voice services and yet another one to transfer on board video from CCTV and look-ahead camera feeds. This proliferation of different technologies can represent a real headache and a high operation & maintenance cost for the Transport Operators, whereas today there are carrier-grade technologies available in the market, able to support with the necessary security and resilience all these services onto a single converged network. Such an approach can help reduce costs, improve efficiency and safety and even open the door to new business models even create new revenue streams when applied to enabling the necessary capacity to support Value Added Services for passenger.
LU: With this proliferation you mention, and the opportunities and challenges it presents how are railways responding to these changes?
EDL: Already a large amount of railway applications are moving away from proprietary and legacy developments with dedicated transmission layers and moving to standard packet-based technologies relying on the IP protocols widely used for the Internet. The point is traditional IP networks are not well suited for the railway critical applications. To support both mission-critical traffic such as Positive Train Control (PTC) or ETCS (European Train Control System), and non-mission critical services, an IP/MPLS-based communications network is needed so to ensure the necessary requirement in terms of resiliency, latency, security and bandwidth are met.
LU: A little earlier in the year we published one of your White Papers detailing your work in this area - Mission-critical Communications Networks for Railway Operators - which proved very popular. It focuses on IP/MPLS, for those yet to read what’s the advantage of using this solution?
EDL: Quite simply, by using IP/MPLS, the railway operator gets the best of both worlds- an IP network bringing flexibility and easiness of integration with a connection-oriented MPLS technology adding robustness, predictability and guaranteed bandwidth similar to a traditional circuit-based network. The Alcatel-Lucent industrial IP/MPLS solution enables the deployment of new IP/Ethernet applications as well as support of existing TDM-based applications, allowing the railway operator to improve services for both internal and external users. It’s a great fit.
LU: This kind of solution is part of a major shift towards the digital railway and often replaces or works alongside existing technologies, some of which have been in place a long time. How do you ensure your technologies are deployed effectively?
EDL: We work very closely with our customers on this, as migration is a delicate process and can be a challenge for some railway operators. The life-cycle of rail telecommunications is normally 10-15 years, so it’s not unlikely that technical resources involved in telecom refresh programmes might require some education and training. We are very proactive in this, and organize periodically free of charge trainings for those engineers willing to learn the latest industry developments, letting them enjoy a very hands-on experience with theoretical classes and actual practical tests on real equipment. An example of such an ongoing education for our clients is our ‘Get up to Speed’ quarterly event in Antwerp, where we host about a 100 attendees from all over the world and from various non-telco industries -including railways- coming in and learning from us and their peers. They are always really good events and looking forward to the next one very much.
LU: It’s a topic that’s been regularly in the news for other industries this year, but how important is cyber-security for the rail industry?
EDL: It’s increasingly important and something that we are closely looking at along with all our customers in the industry. As an example IRSE (Institute of Railway and Signalling Engineers) have published several articles on the subjects earlier this year, and Network Rail in the UK has officially published their “Cyber Security Strategy” some time ago. The observation is that at the moment, despite the absence of railways-specific cyber security standards, there are best practices which could be leveraged as the set of guidance that the Utility Market (especially US) has elaborated in recent years and summarised in the so-called NERC CIP frameworks. It is not by chance that the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), in an attempt to address the topic, decided indeed to refer to what the utility market, considered more advanced in this area, developed in regards to IT security. As Alcatel-Lucent we are extremely well aware of where and how our communication solutions can enable and contribute to implement such best practices, and also thanks to this have gained a big market share in security-sensitive industries such as Smart Grids and Ministries of Defence or Interior.
LU: These cyber-security threats, are they internal or external?
EDL: Both. There have been two or three cases where hackers have managed to disrupt train operations – for example in Lodz in Poland in 2008 where a teenager hacked into the city’s tram system and derailed several vehicles. Railways normally have their own closed network and don’t rely on public infrastructures or internet to carry their traffic, which is already a first form of protection somehow. But having an own, closed network does not prevent someone getting physical access to the network “from-inside”, plugging a memory stick in and causing intentionally or not a virus spread that way. For sure the communication kit, as the one we develop, can contribute implementing certain prevention measures, but it is clear “Security” needs to be tackled in a holistic approach cutting across technology, processed and people know-how and awareness to be truly effective.
LU: And how does video surveillance (CCTV) fit into the security offering?
EDL: It’s increasingly important for both the safety of passengers and staff and also in guarding the assets belonging to the railway. Our IP/MPLS network play actually a big role in managing these video streams with the necessary quality of service, security and flexibility. A typical railway operation will work with multiple video streams, that can take up significant bandwidth so need the kind of high-capacity, secure and cost-effective network we can deliver. We are also looking at seeing a greater demand for camera within the cabs on automated trains, giving a direct view from the train front - what we call ‘driver look ahead’. This could be coupled with higher resolution, cloud-based video-odometry, to allow even higher accuracy for train positioning. As automated trains become more widespread we can see this becoming more in demand – and of course this network would have to be very dependable. All of these application will require high bandwidth, typically more than traditional backbone have been designed too.
LU: It’s always interesting to speak to those companies that have business divisions working across different industries, how much sharing of information within Alcatel-Lucent is there?
EDL: It’s a great advantage for us to work across so many industries, and serving at the same time telecom service providers, large enterprises and public sectors. This opens up opportunities to make available to the non-telco customers our carrier-grade technologies, benefiting at the same time of well proven, massively scalable platforms yet enhanced with industrial and security features required by a certain vertical. As we already mentioned, an example of cross-fertilization is well represented by all the industrial requirement learning we derived from the utility market (where for example we are the undisputed Smart Grid communication leader especially in the US) to then apply them to adjacent markets such as the railway industry; or to how signal encryption at the physical level of the signal transmitted in the fiber cable, as required by defence and banking sector and implemented in our optical transport WDM (Wavelength Division Multiplexing) solutions, can introduce additional security for large national “unmanned” asset owners such as railways .
We also have BellLabs, formerly AT&T, a very important part of the business, who focus on research and development and collaborate closely with our customers to create new technologies. They’ve been working for over 90 years with R&D and many of the technologies we take for granted were created there. It’s great to have it as part of Alcatel-Lucent. There are some really exciting innovations coming out of there… I just can’t tell you about them yet!
LU: Well, make sure you let me know when you can! So continuing on from this focus on what’s coming next. What are some of the future trends and growth are you are seeing?
EDL: On the railways side, we see the trend will be two-folds: on one hand automation and digitalisation with less trackside signal, more capacity, shorter headways achieved through deployment of PTC, ETCS and CBTC (Communication Based Train Control); on the other hand more and more attention will be given to the passenger digital experience. Across both dimensions, the communication technologies will have to be able to cater for the massive growth and adoption from the railway of IP based applications, and here IP/MPLS is definitely set to be the backbone technology of reference for many years to come. Then as I’ve also mentioned a far great focus on cyber-security and how vendors can help – as part of an industry wide effort to ensure safety. Another important area of innovation we expect to see on the radio communication solution, where we expect that 4G/LTE and 5G will play a big role.
Finally, I think that ‘machine to machine’ – railways using more IP connected devices offers huge possibilities, beyond where we already are. We can easily imagine Internet of Things technologies already applied to the consumer industry being adapted and employed to enhance railway operations. We could apply this principle in rail for big data analysis by having a sensor in the middle of a railway line and collecting data from it. This is still a little way off but on large infrastructure and in remote places it would be very useful. To give just one example of many, a sensor could report that ice is forming on the tracks and the train would then slow down.
LU: So just to finish up, what most excites you about the future of the rail industry?
EDL: In a simple word “everything”, as trains are my passion and that of many other colleagues in Alcatel-Lucent! But it is always very rewarding to see something that we’ve worked on within rail improving the network and becoming a public service of great quality. This is always very satisfying. The rail industry is heading quickly into greater automation and digitisation and this is going to make a huge, positive difference to the industry: all of this will require a very robust, resilient and scalable networking infrastructure as a foundation. And from the Alcatel-Lucent perspective, as a leader in this field, we are keen to be a leading player in enabling this digital future and seeing these developments as they come through. Exciting times!
LU: Great, thank you very much for your time today.
If you like telecoms innovation like this, then you may also be interested in:
Alcatel-Lucent White Paper: Mission-critical Communications Networks for Railway Operators.
Alcatel-Lucent White Paper: Norfolk Southern Case Study