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TfL taps Thales and Nokia to renew underground multi-services network

Transport for London engages IT and networks firms to deliver integrated communications renewal to support system used by staff to handle radio, transmission and CCTV technology

In a bid to ensure that its multi-services network (MSN) operates at peak performance, minimising functional risks, journey disruptions and costs into the 2030s, Transport for London (TfL) has announced a comprehensive renewal of the critical communications ecosystem that underpins the London Underground. 

The MSN serves as the underlying infrastructure that supports Connect, the communications system from Thales Group that includes radio transmission and operational CCTV technology used by TfL staff to maintain smooth operations, making it vital to efficiency on the rail network to ensure a safe and smooth passenger experience.

Transport for London carries up to four million passengers a day on the London Underground network, and renewing and preparing the communications network for the future is essential to maintain and improve critical infrastructure. TfL believes legacy systems can slowly become unreliable and could disrupt services, leading to delays and an overall negative impact on passenger journeys. The data-backed, integrated update is being spearheaded by Thales and transmission network technology partner Nokia to address proactively the upgrade with minimal disruption to passenger journeys.

A Nokia mission-critical IP/MPLS network solution forms the backbone of the new infrastructure, providing what is said to be secure, reliable and scalable connectivity, ensuring that the foundation for the communications ecosystem is robust and sustainable. This should not be seen as a “traditional” network, observed Matthieu Bourguignon, senior vice-president and head of Europe for network infrastructure business at Nokia.

“It’s a network that is delivered for mission-critical applications [such as] CCTV and mobile voice services for train drivers. So there is a need to deliver the technology, but also long-term support,” he said. “It’s not like a commercial contracting style. That’s why we have collaborated a lot with our partner Thales to deliver the design services and implement a reference network that will be used to do all the testing required to be sure that when we deliver such a network, we deliver something that is scalable, reliable and secure. But also, we assure that things are done efficiently for operations and for safety.”

The infrastructure renewal is designed to support the operational demands of the Tube and rail network and ensure it operates at peak performance while reducing costs and journey disruptions, and ultimately providing the best service possible to customers, as well as providing access to CCTV across the network, explained TfL director of information technology Rebecca Bissell.

Talking with Computer Weekly, she said: “We’ve had a continued relationship [with Thales] in developing the Connect network. This is very much part of our longer-term strategy. It’s also very important to us operationally. Without having a Connect network … we can’t run an operator railway. It’s paramount for the safety of our customers and staff.

“To make sure we can get people moving around London, safety and security is a core part of the infrastructure. If you look at [where] we work, it’s a challenging environment to maintain assets. We’ve done an awful lot of work of making sure that that’s all safe and secure, and supportable and maintainable. Having the next-generation [infrastructure is] hugely important to us, and that’s why this relationship provides a platform [from which] we can start to look at what more we can do with this network. It’s a fantastic asset to have. We’ve got very high service level agreements and uptime to maintain.”

Speaking of these levels and the contract in general, Thales revealed that the current Connect network runs at 99.999% availability, reaching out across 272 stations in a very complex brownfield environment. It was absolutely critical working with TfL and Nokia during the transition from the legacy system to maintain these levels.

Andy Bell, vice president of Thales Transport in the UK, noted that of the challenges in the underground environment, creating secure and reliable connectivity stood out.

“We all recognise more and more data is being transmitted and used, but in that mission-critical network, TfL cannot afford outages that give problems,” he said. “This system has to perform at a high level to support everything that goes on. One of the challenges is implementing it in a 150-year-old infrastructure.”

Thales also confirmed that the new network would also support the Airwave technology used by fire, police and ambulance operators on the UK’s Emergency Services Network (ESN), enabling “seamless” communications between above-ground and underground emergency services.

Read more about connectivity for TfL

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  • EE unveils 5G connectivity for London Underground:  Just weeks after 4G landed on the Central and Northern lines for the first time, BT-owned operator now brings 5G to the Tube, with Archway, Notting Hill Gate and Tufnell Park the first stations to benefit.
  • Virgin Media O2 brings 5G services to the London Underground: As 4G and 5G mobile coverage continue to be rolled out across the Tube network in London, leading UK operator enables customers travelling in tunnels between those stations to enjoy 5G coverage in sections of in the West End and north London.

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