Digital twin technology has enabled fast and reliable 5G connectivity for passengers on a high-speed rail route in Southern China.

Nick Wood

March 25, 2024

2 Min Read

ZTE, along with China Mobile's Yunnan Branch, have created an accurate 3D model of the lineside infrastructure along the KunchuDali railway, and used it to make improvements to network performance.

The route traverses some challenging terrain, including mountain ranges and dense vegetation, the result being that bridges and tunnels account for 64% of its length. Part of the China-Myanmar International Railway and the Trans-Asia Railway west line, it connects several important cities in Yunnan Province. It's popular with tourists, and it carries around 61,000 passengers per day.

ZTE explained that the digital twin encompasses virtual representations not just of mobile sites but of signals too.

Mapping the sites was a challenge due to the topography, so ZTE and China Mobile used drones to reach the places engineers can't – conducting surveys, using AI to automatically identify antennas, and collecting the 3D data needed for the site aspect of the digital twin.

Then they set about implementing signal twinning – or as they call it 'channel twinning' – for the mountainous parts of the route. For this they took various data points from each antenna – including azimuth, angle, power and beam size, and fed that into their model. This enabled China Mobile and ZTE to predict and optimise 5G coverage.

The result of all this effort is the KunchuDali railway route now boasts 98.5% 5G coverage and lineside download speeds of more than 300 Mbps. The scheme came in at around CNY1.6 million ($221,810) cheaper compared to traditional planning and optimisation projects, and shortened the optimisation period by about a month.

"The implementation of digital twin technology for high-speed railways enables efficient site surveys and coverage optimisation to achieve higher efficiency and quality," said ZTE. "This advancement fosters the deep integration of various industries with digital twin technology, paving the way for new industries, ecosystems, and operational modes."

According to Gartner, global digital twin revenues are expected to reach $183 billion by 2031. And when it comes to adoption, railway operators are at the forefront, using these virtual models to improve real-time asset management, reduce delays, and improve journey times.

In the UK, Transport for London (TfL) in 2022 announced plans to roll out a digital twin of the London Underground network so it can virtually monitor tracks and tunnels. Network Rail also offers a catalogue of training simulations built on digital twin technology.

According to an article in Mobility Innovators, bullet train operator JR East has deployed digital twins to monitor tracks, bridges and tunnels to enable predictive maintenance, while Hong Kong's MTR (Mass Transit Railway) uses them to improve scheduling.

All of this is of course enabled by reliable, high-speed, low-latency connectivity. While this KunchuDali example is primarily about offering a decent on-board experience for passengers, it would come as no surprise if it started leveraging the newly-improved network to modernise other aspects of its operations.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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