5G and Transport Infrastructure

Maximising uptime is more important than ever. Post Brexit and Covid-19, transport systems across the UK are facing increasing pressure — and damage to the assets that underpin the sector, from roads to tracks, rolling stock to aircraft, not only impact individual profitability and overall GDP but also have major safety implications. 

Thankfully, 5G and IoT offer an increased level of visibility into traffic infrastructure. This can be used to quickly identify and resolve issues and will shift the industry towards a predictive maintenance model — reducing unexpected downtime, and unnecessary maintenance. Automated inspections and safety checks can play an important role here too: 5G-connected drones are able to monitor aircraft, airspace and train tracks. This enables a broad visualisation of infrastructure and is particularly crucial for minimising hazards, such as workers walking on rail tracks. 

Though IoT is not 5G dependent, 5G networks facilitate a greater density of sensors, enabling transport to move to a model whereby every vehicle could offer real-time identification and inspection of issues. The network’s increased quality of data is also significant. For example, 5G is able to provide ultra high-definition video feeds that can show the exact location and size of faults or concerns rather than just a binary notification.  While 5G’s high bandwidth also enables augmented and virtual reality support for engineers and maintenance workers, removing the need to send experts out to every site and speeding up the time it takes to perform maintenance activities.

Existing infrastructure across the country is under unprecedented pressure: to keep the nation moving the UK needs to adopt advanced connectivity solutions. 

Infrastructure Applications

Safety Checks, Inspections and Fault Detection

Damage to transport infrastructure can have significant safety implications. But 5G sensors, alongside ultra high definition camera feeds and drones, will enable more efficient monitoring and inspections. 5G networks offer robust connectivity and the ability to slice or deploy private networks; this allows checks and inspections to be conducted quickly and rigorously, creating confidence and security for transport operators and infrastructure owners. 

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

WM5G has tested a number of solutions to support monitoring and inspections of infrastructure, for both rail and road. Their POLYTRACK project identified wear and developing faults to tram tracks: a typically time-consuming task conducted by engineers through manual surveys or the deployment of specialist machinery. Using 5G’s positional accuracy and real-time data transmission rail imperfections were detected on both tram and rail tracks through sensors installed on the Chassis (Bogie) of the vehicle. Such sensors help operators identify issues, ensuring maintenance is carried out on the track before imperfections deteriorate and as a result, optimising safety and maintenance.

In Japan, 5G-enabled AI will facilitate analytics that identify potential incidents at rail crossings before they happen. Nokia and Odakyu Electric Railway are using ultra high definition cameras to provide a continuous feed and machine-learning based AI to monitor events in real-time. A 5G network makes it possible for this project to run on edge computing resources, minimising the required bandwidth at remote sites with limited connectivity.

John Harrington, Head of Nokia in Japan, said:

"Network-connected cameras are one of the most prolific sources of internet of things (IOT) data that can provide valuable insights to help promote high safety standards. By running machine learning analytics on camera feeds and sending solely relevant scenes and events to operators, the full benefits of video surveillance can be realised in a wide variety of settings, with rail crossings a particularly relevant use case."

5G can support a high density of sensors, which additionally enables increased inspection capabilities. Trains and cars could be fitted with sensors and cameras to allow for more pervasive, ongoing monitoring of train lines and rolling stock. 

Network Rail has identified the potential of 5G to control drones beyond line of sight. This will be particularly useful for performing remote survey and inspection of the railway infrastructure (for example, if a tree falls on a track); the unique approach creates quicker response times for unplanned inspection and provides a broader vision of the space in question, all while minimising workers exposure to hazardous conditions. This is being explored in Network Rail’s TSIP (train and station innovation for performance) collaboration project. 5G’s ultra-high-speed connectivity could additionally support aircraft maintenance checks via video streams and remotely-controlled autonomous drones, decreasing the total lead time for inspections. 

Lufthansa Technik has deployed a private standalone 5G network, enabling the conduction of collaborative virtual engine inspections between aircraft technicians and Hamberg-based engineers. The same technology is also being used by engineers to support customers conducting their own inspections in other locations. 

Moving to roads, WM5G’s Continuous Urban Scanner (CURBS) project attached retrofit specialist LiDAR cameras to vehicles to effectively manage the city’s roads and infrastructure. Utilising data to create a real-time 3D mapping and dynamic monitoring system, vehicles such as route buses are able to become mobile scanners and provide data in real-time. Data gathering could include road surfaces, kerbs and objects, in addition to the reporting of road markings and cleanliness, lamp posts, on-street parking bays and bus stops.

Though technological pothole detection is not a new concept, continuous video streams are resource intensive and often provide little useful data beyond location. 5G’s high bandwidth coupled with edge computing is a much better alternative, capturing detailed location data alongside depth and width. Connected vehicles can also communicate to networks (V2N) and other vehicles (V2V) to inform users and management of damage. This helps earlier identification and therefore resolution, in addition to minimising impact by informing road users in real-time. 

Robots too could play a role in conducting safety checks and inspections. At the Port of Rotterdam, the inspection process for gas leaks is critical to the security and safety of Shell Pernis. Trials were successfully conducted with mobile inspection robots, using their private 5G network.

Jos van Winsen, General Manager at Shell Pernis, said:

"The port of Rotterdam is the perfect place for the industrial 5G Field Lab. We can achieve a lot in terms of reliability and efficiency with new digital technologies, helping to improve industry safety performance even more."

Infrastructure Maintenance 

It is more important than ever that transport providers and UK Plc maximise uptime. When the assets underpinning our systems are out of service, there is a detrimental economic impact. Maintenance activities therefore need to be conducted efficiently to ensure our trains, trams, buses, freight, private vehicles and aircraft are able to run. 5G’s high bandwidth can enable real-time access to data, as well as remote support through virtual and augmented reality; this reduces the need to send experts to site, saving time and unnecessary travel miles.

At Hamburg International Airport and Haneda Airport in Tokyo, 5G is addressing skill gaps. While conducting maintenance activities, technicians can access remote experts through augmented and virtual reality, giving them full visibility of repairs and problems through real-time sharing of 4k images and 3D reconstructions. 

Through 5G MoNArch, the Port of Hamburg is also using 5G to support their engineering team through augmented and virtual reality applications. Engineers are assisted in their day-to-day work with easy mobile access to construction plans and information on buildings, in addition to other technical installations within the port area; this is made possible by on-demand provisioning of the available data and documentation through AR/VR applications. The equipment is connected to a central application server through the 5G mobile network, using a dedicated network slice. 

Similarly, the Port of Rotterdam is equipping Shell engineers with industrial tablets connected to 5G. These can be used to provide augmented reality information to support their maintenance activities (for example, temperature or pressure of the process installation). The network also allows staff to stay in touch via video and audio with experts, speeding up time taken for maintenance activities. 

Spain-based transport infrastructure and urban services company Ferrovial has deployed a private 5G network, in standalone (5G SA) mode, at its major Silvertown Tunnel project in London. The firm is building a new 1.4-kilometre twin-bore road tunnel under the Thames in East London, to connect Greenwich and the Silvertown district by Royal Victoria Dock on the south and north sides of the river.

The setup in East London uses 3.8-4.2 GHz (band n77) shared spectrum, as made available by UK regulator Ofcom. Ferrovial uses Nokia’s ‘digital automation cloud’ (DAC) product in most of its LTE and 5G installs; the Greenwich extension, however, is based on open RAN, with radio equipment from different vendors, and a network management platform from Neutroon / i2CAT, for managing sundry industrial technologies and apps.

A statement said: “This tech milestone… will make it possible, for example, to design future construction projects combining IoT, AR, AI, and robotics.”

Catapult is working with Network Rail to investigate the connectivity of rail-side assets. Using a combination of satellite and 5G connectivity for seamless communications, the aim is to enhance worker safety and operational efficiency thorough the adoption of self-reporting assets which communicate with rail management and other assets, should a deficiency be spotted. Space data and connectivity hence provide tangible benefits for asset management; benefits which may be extrapolated into most national and international transportation industries.  

The ‘BRIGITAL’ project was set up as a decision-support tool for asset maintenance decision makers. Using SAR (synthetic-aperture radar), ground sensor and inspection data to display the displacement of bridge infrastructure in real-time, BRIGITAL can both pre-empt catastrophic failures and focus public authority remedial action on the weakest structures most at risk of failure. Thus, BRIGITAL acts as an important early warning system for local councils and bridge maintenance providers and lessens the burden on public authority inspection with a more focused, efficient and non-disruptive solution.

Predictive Maintenance

The continuous monitoring of transport infrastructure via 5G can enable scheduled and predictive maintenance. This reduces unplanned downtime and speeds up maintenance activities, which eliminates the need for unnecessary work and is good for the planet, too. 

When will this be available? View our predicted timeline here.

WM5G’s POLYTRACK project used 5G’s positional accuracy and real-time data transmission to detect rail imperfections on both tram and rail. Installed on the Chassis (Bogie) of the vehicle, 5G was able to export sensor data captured from a tram in-service for vehicle dynamics and track monitoring experts to analyse. This helps operators identify issues early, enabling condition-based maintenance and as a result, optimising safety and performance.

Ports can also benefit from predictive maintenance. The Port of Felixstowe used 5G IoT devices and predictive data analytics to reduce unscheduled downtime of its 31 quay-side and 82 yard cranes. AI optimises the crane’s predictive maintenance cycle, which improves performance and the productivity of ship-to-shore operations. At the Port of Rotterdam, Shell Pernis is conducting tests over their 5G network with UHD cameras and the use of Machine Learning for preventive maintenance. This makes it possible to inspect approximately 160,000 km of pipelines efficiently and accurately, in order to pre-detect and execute necessary maintenance. 

5G’s high bandwidth likewise supports the deployment of sensors, which can be applied to all transport modes including freight lorries, aircraft and ground service equipment at airports. The network’s ability to support a greater density of devices allows for continuous and more detailed monitoring to facilitate a shift to a predictive maintenance model. We should expect less wastage, and greater efficiency.