Leading the way in communications technology across multiple UK industries, telent is playing a key role in the development of a digital railway
In 1897 Guglielmo Marconi founded The Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company, a business that pioneered wireless long distance communication and mass media broadcasting throughout its long history. Numerous acquisitions, mergers and sales took place throughout the twentieth century and today a number of leading names across the world can attribute part of their history to the company. One such company is telent, a now privately owned business with a long history of industry experience often found at the cutting edge of communication technology’s rapid progress.
At telent’s heart sits an unrivalled reputation for service delivery and a total commitment to innovative communication technologies. From this core the business’s market presence is multifaceted, serving key infrastructure sectors such as telecoms, traffic, rail, emergency and commercial markets. telent currently holds over 30 years of experience delivering systems and services to the rail industry, providing projects to TfL, Network Rail and numerous TOCs across the network.
“One of the great strengths that we have is the company’s level of capability in complex technical communication,” explains Stephen Pears, Managing Director of telent’s Rail division. “We are able to forge ahead with the latest communication technologies whilst being able to deal with old and obsolete systems. Crucially, as we are very much a service organisation, this is underpinned by our people and we possess some very talented and motivated individuals who work really well with clients, have a strong commitment to innovation and to solid service delivery.”
telent’s business in the rail industry is supported by a foundation of maintenance and management services presently being delivered to over 1000 stations on the national rail infrastructure, plus all London Underground stations. Such a widespread workforce not only gives the company an excellent relationship with its clients, but also forms a solid platform upon which innovative technologies and solutions can be built.
Such a strong service and dedication to innovation results in a company that is highly flexible and able to develop its capabilities and expertise in response to market trends. The digital railway undoubtedly dominates the industry’s current focus, and Stephen notes that even over the last 18 months, since Railway Strategies last featured telent, the transition to such a network has made significant progress.
“What’s changing for us as a business is the impact of technology and our investment into technology to move forward in support of this transition,” he says. “One of our biggest moves to facilitate this was the acquisition of Telindus UK, which has brought with it Gold Partner status with Cisco and Elite Partner status with Juniper. This really helps take the business into the world of the digital railway and makes sure that we have the future capability and expertise to fully support it.”
One key area where a digital railway is already beginning to be realised is in the current electrification programme being rolled out across the UK. Presently telent is delivering a five-year contract to develop the national electrification supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. By utilising a variety of communications systems to provide control to remote equipment, the SCADA control systems allow for a single national control infrastructure, which integrates legacy equipment with new systems, thus allowing much greater flexibility of control.
Back in 2014 when we last spoke with telent, Stephen discussed the roll out of SCADA to Network Rail infrastructure. Today, he happily reports that TfL and the London Underground are keen to bring the technology into their own network. “They have now come to market with their requirement for a traction power SCADA system,” he explains. “The approach is similar to the Network Rail project where we’re seeing the need for a centrally managed system that can be operated from multiple locations.”
Demonstrating the company’s consistent occupation right at the leading edge of technological innovation, telent’s roll out of SCADA has become very closely aligned with a growing need for cyber security development. Over the last 18 months the company has taken part ownership of a cyber security company in anticipation of this rising demand. “The design of a network, the implementation of a security solution that provides defence in depth, the ability to carry out penetration testing and so on are all becoming key requirements of these new systems,” Stephen continues. “Having the capability to understand cyber security and to deliver these requirements to our customers is incredibly important. At the same time this is new ground for a lot of our customers so it is critical that we can not only respond to these requirements but also support them in the transition.”
In addition to the SCADA programme, telent has also been busy continuously developing and implementing its station management system, known as MICA (Management Integration and Control of Assets), which has been in the market since 2006. By enhancing the communication between multiple systems such as CCTV, public address systems, passenger information displays and help points, as well as fire and intrusion detection systems and lift and escalator monitoring MICA provides a fully integrated management system.
CCTV management forms a very important part of MICA and, acting as a management service provider as well as the project delivery partner, telent currently looks after 30,000 cameras across the UK’s station network. “Since we last spoke there has been a marked beginning to the transfer from analogue to IP CCTV systems,” outlines Stephen. “We currently have 1000 IP cameras in seven TfL stations, and by working with a lot of the leading camera and video encoder suppliers in the market, like Samsung, Axis and Bosch we are integrating their systems into ours and helping to develop this for the rail environment. Part of this development provides mobile CCTV monitoring to a local monitor or handheld device.” Whilst MICA was initially rolled out into the TfL network, over the last year Network Rail stations such as Reading and London Bridge have begun to implement the same technology.
As with SCADA, cyber security plays an important role in the current development focus of MICA. Stephen points out that with the raised threat of attack to critical infrastructure following events in Paris, the need to increase station security has followed. He highlights that recent development for MICA has been centred on how secure it is and following tests, telent is confident about its credentials. “It is very important to be able to provide high quality services and to make sure these systems are functioning very well,” he adds.
Another area of recent focus for telent is in improving its complete service offering, having agreed a managed service contract for CCTV systems to provide 10-15 year periods of renewals and support for a known cost. “For an operator this means that they don’t need to worry about going out to market every time they need renewals, instead they get a service that supports them for the duration of their franchise,” Stephen explains. “It is not just technological innovation that we are developing but also the way in which we contract and support our clients from a service point of view. It also means we’re operating in the provision of capital, which is made possible by our own financial strength.”
With demand for a digital network growing across the UK’s rail industry, telent and its expanding capability are perfectly placed to continue its leading role in the communications sector. A look at the current market conditions goes some way to bolstering this positivity as Stephen references the ongoing Crossrail and upcoming HS2 projects, plus the possible Crossrail 2 and HS3. “This suggests that the rail network has a great future in terms of investment,” he says. “However, at the same time we are seeing Network Rail and TfL becoming more aligned with the government and therefore having tight budget pressures, so it’s a bit of a mixed picture.
“Ultimately, the industry has set the strategic vision for a digital railway and the requirements which that entails, but it’s very much in its infancy. At the heart of this vision is a secure communications network and this has to be highly reliable and able to reach all segments of the industry, it has to have the capacity and the availability, and it has to have the cyber security pedigree. We will be central to supporting this vision and by working closely with our customers and partners we can make sure that these things are delivered along side the best applications to interface with them.”