German rail company Deutsche Bahn is really keen on automation and ha picked Nokia to help it take humans out of the equation.

Deutsche Bahn has a project called S-Bahn, which is all about automation. As part of that Nokia has won the work to test and deliver what it claims will be the world’s first 5G SA system for automated rail operation. At this stage it’s all about proof-of-concept and finding out whether 5G is mature enough to be used as the connectivity layer for digitalized rail operations.

The time parameters for all this seem to be somewhat vague as, even if it’s not mature enough now, it may be in a year or two, so this is presumably a rolling (see what I did there) exercise. The fact that the standard for 5G-powered rail is simply called Future Railway Mobile Communication System implies this whole area is very much in its infancy, but you have to start somewhere.

“We are very pleased to be Deutsche Bahn’s partner, bringing digital technology to the forefront of the Hamburg S-Bahn network and rail system,” said Kathrin Buvac, President of Nokia Enterprise and Chief Strategy Officer. “Together, we have worked to research, develop and deliver the world’s first 5G-based communication system for automated rail operation, an important milestone towards the Future Rail Mobile Communication System and a major step in making Industry 4.0 a reality.”

This comes hot on the heels of the announcement that SK Telecom and Samsung are doing similar work to automate ships, as 5G initially shows more promise on the B2B than consumer side. It should be stressed that the plan is still to have human beings on-board, keeping an eye on things, but it’s still unnerving to see how quickly we’re relinquishing control of all kinds of vehicles.

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