SNCF on track for industrial 5G in France

French train operator and technical partners unveil 5G Living Lab devoted to industrial practices, designed to extend 5G tests in local station and support modernisation of the group’s industrial entities

Building on the success of its first 5G test platform, created two years ago, French train operator SNCF has entered into a consortium with Orange, Nokia and the Institut Mines-Telecom (IMT) to support the modernisation of its industrial entities and fast-track its transition to an ultra-high-speed wireless network.

The tests will be extended to industrial activities to pave the way to what SNCF described as “potentially decisive” innovations in the area. In particular, the partnership will test 5G use cases in the 26GHz band, a spectrum well suited to the additional localised deployments necessary in areas requiring a very high capacity, such as industrial sites or very busy locations.

The tests will be based on a “5G Living Lab” devoted to industrial practices located in facilities near the Rennes railway station. One of these, on a 22-hectare site, is the Industrial Technicentre of Rennes, which focuses on braking system maintenance for all rolling stock in France. The other is the Technicentre of Maintenance Brittany, which services, cleans and repairs all of the company’s regional trains.

As part of this ambitious partnership, Orange will provide the telecoms network services and Nokia will be in charge of connectivity technologies, including private network solutions. Institut Mines-Telecom will look at the notions of trust and sovereignty applied to telecommunications and, more specifically, the issue of hosting data at the edge of the network (edge computing). Researchers at IMT (Télécom Paris) will also work on the social impacts through multidisciplinary research: economic, legal, management and design. The aim is to meet the general public’s expectations and foster real digital inclusion with the implementation of a charter of trust.

SNCF first began working with Orange and Nokia in 2019 as part of a call for innovative platforms by France’s regulatory authority for electronic communications, postal affairs and print media distribution (Arcep). The aim was to test new 5G frequencies in the mmWave region, 26GHz frequency range, which provide speeds similar to fibre networks, and look at the emergence of new use cases both for the general public and businesses, in particular those that support Industry 4.0.

The two technicentres will offer industrial use cases, addressing some specific needs that SNCF said have already been identified. These include very high speeds to download operational data; real-time connectivity for process control and to remotely control logistics; the use of mobile cameras to monitor the movement of equipment; and real-time video analysis to improve operational efficiency, such as detecting graffiti or hatches that have been left open following maintenance.

“SNCF has always been a hub of innovation, and the 5G Living Labs initiative reflects that objective. Extending these tests to our industrial activities is strategic ... and gives us a head start”
Christophe Fanichet, SNCF

Over a period of 18 months, SNCF, Orange and Nokia tested various services and use cases that simultaneously met the needs of passengers, offering instant media downloads like films, series and documentaries with Fastpoint; professionals, including video conferencing on a Lenovo 5G computer; maintenance technicians, giving immersive assistance with connected glasses by Rennes-based company AMA; and journalists, such as filming and broadcasting 4K videos live using Sony devices.

Having received a label for the 5G Living Lab platform in Rennes Station from the French Digital Infrastructure strategic committee, the general directorate for enterprise (CSF), the consortium submitted a funding request as part of the French state’s Covid recovery plan. By opening their test platform up to third parties, as requested by Arcep, the three companies were able to work with other partners, including Qualcomm Technologies, Sony, Lenovo, and SMEs such as Fastpoint and AMA.

“SNCF has always been a hub of innovation, both in terms of services for our customers and industrial excellence, and the 5G Living Labs initiative reflects that objective,” said Christophe Fanichet, chief digital officer of the SNCF Group and CEO of SNCF Voyageurs. “Extending these tests to our industrial activities is strategic as it paves the way to potentially decisive innovations and gives us a head start, especially in terms of the reliability and competitiveness of our maintenance.”

Francis Jutand, deputy executive director of the IMT, said having expertise in 5G was an essential aspect of communication network sovereignty and the dissemination of digital throughout all sectors – industry, networks and services.

“The project with SNCF and its partners gives us a unique opportunity to test 5G’s potential for innovation in professional and consumer applications, develop new uses and provide a better passenger experience. We are proud to be involved in such disruptive projects with SNCF to accelerate the deployment of 5G applications with high use value.”

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