Nokia leads the GSM-Railway connectivity market

Railways are expected to migrate from GSM-R to LTE-R. (Getty Images)

The total passenger rail connectivity market is expected to be worth $9.77 billion by 2025, led by Western Europe. And railways’ migration from traditional Global System for Mobile Communications—Railway (GSM-R) to 4G LTE is expected to greatly boost onboard connectivity for passengers, according to a new report from Frost & Sullivan.

Nokia leads the GSM-R connectivity market, serving more than 70,000 km globally, with most projects in Europe, according to Frost & Sullivan’s recent analysis “Passenger Rail Connectivity Market in Europe and North America, Forecast to 2025.”

In addition to Nokia, other leading vendors in the passenger rail connectivity market include Cisco, Radwin Nomad Digital and COBHAM.

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Frost & Sullivan predicts that GSM-R will be upgraded to LTE-R by 2025, and train operators are also looking toward 5G. The cost of the technology solutions are expected to drop significantly due to competition. And major OEMs are expected to partner with smaller companies to offer connectivity technologies.

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"Investments in erecting mobile network towers similar to wayside communications-based train control (CBTC) on the rail routes and equipping trains with mobile network boosters will enable consistent connectivity for passengers and increase passenger rail traffic," said Frost & Sullivan Analyst Guruguhan Nataraj in a statement.

But Nataraj added that the high speed of trains creates a type of Doppler effect when a passenger onboard tries to make use of the connectivity system. To eliminate this issue, multiple hardware units have to be set up at regular intervals to ensure overlapping of signal coverage.

Frost & Sullivan chart

In the United States, the Union Pacific Railroad Company has said (PDF) that it operates one of the largest private telecommunications networks in the country in order to provide control and safety applications for its trains. The railroad’s network includes 1,100 microwave towers and more than 10,000 wayside sites.

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Rosenblatt analyst Ryan Koontz said it’s a “$1 billion opportunity that Nokia may lose” and that “these sorts of decisions only come every 7-10 years.