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transferring standards: lessons from gsm-r in the railway sector

Transferring standards: lessons from GSM-R in the railway sector
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Laperrouza, M. (2008) “Transferring standards: lessons from GSM-R in the railway sector”, presented at the 19th European Regional ITS Conference, 18-20 September 2008, Luiss Guido Carli University, Rome.

Marc Laperrouza

In the mid 1990s the European railway community – under the aegis of the Union Internationale des Chemins de fer (UIC) – opted for GSM as the standard to replace existing analogue railway radio systems. The decision was taken on two grounds: GSM was a non?proprietary standard (i.e. open standard) and it fulfilled the needs of railway operators. Other arguments put forward to support the choice was that choosing GSM would have the advantage to remain close to the development of the public market and to benefit from the experience on the applications and products level.

This paper looks at the transfer of a telecommunication standard to another industry (railways). In particular it studies whether the adoption of an “extended” version of the GSM standard (GSM?R) turned out to be an efficient choice. Unlike the telecommunication sector, the railway sector does not have a UN forum like the ITU where railway stakeholders can come together to solve technical and standardization issues – that role is carried out in large parts by UIC, ETSI and other standardization bodies and increasingly by the European Railway Agency (ERA).

Whereas the telecommunication sector has been undergoing liberalization for more than 20 years the European railway sector is by?and?large only beginning its reform process. The aim of creating a single European railway market has not been facilitated by the existence and persistence of strong technical boundaries at the national level. The transfer and deployment of GSM?R is of strategic importance to the success of another European railway project – European Railway Train Management System (ERTMS) – since the introduction of the new signaling system rests on achieving interoperability in radio?communication.

Based on interviews from key stakeholders (telecommunication equipment manufacturers, railway operators and spectrum regulators) we discuss the viability of “piggybacking” on the GSM standard to answer the needs of railway operators.

The paper is divided in three parts. First we look at the adoption of an existing standard (GSM) and its extension and transfer to the railway sector. Second, we look at the issue of maintaining the GSM?R2 standard. We are particularly interested in analyzing the interplay between the key stakeholders (ERA, UIC and ETSI) in establishing the locus for standard maintenance and ensuring harmonization of future developments. In the third part, we question the efficiency and the viability of “piggybacking” on the GSM standard to answer the needs of railway operators. The paper concludes that despite a number of remaining technological and institutional issues (such interference from public operators introducing UMTS, frequency management and coordination between numerous stakeholders), the adoption of GSM?R represents a successful case of standard transfer/extension.

The quest for coherence between institutions and technologies in infrastructures. Case study: railway sector

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