Water pipes could be used to accelerate the roll out of fast broadband without digging up roads under government plans to trial technology to boost digital connectivity.
Yorkshire Water is working with Arcadis and Strathclyde University to deliver the project that aims to reduce water leaks by putting fibre sensors in the pipes, allowing water companies to improve the speed and accuracy with which they can identify and repair leaks.
Under the proposals, fibre-optic cables would be deployed through 17km of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone in South Yorkshire. Broadband companies could then tap into the network to deliver gigabit-capable connections to up to 8,500 homes and businesses along the route.
In a statement, Mark Harrop, senior director and head of Telecoms Sector at Arcadis, said: “Fibre in water technology has been around for some time, but what is missing is an operational and commercial model that meets the needs of both telecoms and water industries.”
Installing new ducts and poles for new gigabit-capable broadband networks is disruptive and expensive. The Fibre in Water scheme will demonstrate what could be a greener, quicker and more cost-effective way of connecting fibre optic cables to homes, businesses and mobile masts, without the disruption caused by digging up roads and land. The network will be also used to set up 5G masts to bring wireless broadband to hard-to-reach communities where wired solutions are too expensive to deliver commercially.
The first phase of the project will focus on the legal and safety aspects of this solution to ensure that combining clean water and telecoms services in a single pipeline is safe, secure and commercially viable.
If successful, the project could be replicated in other parts of the country and could speed up the government’s £5bn Project Gigabit plan to level up broadband access in hard-to-reach areas.
Sam Bright, innovation programme manager at Yorkshire Water said: “We are very pleased that the government is supporting the development of the Fibre in Water solution, which can reduce the environmental impact and day-to-day disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecoms companies’ activities.
“The technology for fibre in water has significantly progressed in recent years and this project will now enable us to fully develop its potential to help improve access to better broadband in hard-to-reach areas and further reduce leakage on our networks.”
The trials will last for up to two years and the technology could be operational in networks from 2024 onwards, pending results from the project.