Illustration for high-speed internet

Broadband cables to be routed through water pipes in new trial

Image credit: Dreamstime

New proposals to accelerate the rollout of broadband without digging up roads could see fibre-optic cables deployed through 17km of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone in South Yorkshire.

The trial has the potential to connect up to 8,500 homes and businesses to faster broadband and the technology will also be used to power new 5G masts to connect people in hard-to-reach areas.

Civil works, in particular installing new ducts and poles, can make up as much as four-fifths of the costs to industry of building new gigabit-capable broadband networks.

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 also be used to set up 5G masts to bring fast and reliable wireless broadband to hard-to-reach communities where wired solutions are too expensive to deliver commercially.

The trail will also explore how fibre can help the water industry detect leaks, operate more efficiently and lower the carbon cost of drinking water.

The trials will last for up to two years and, if successful, the technology could be operational in networks from 2024 onwards.

Digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said: “Digging up roads and land is one of the biggest obstacles to rolling out faster broadband, so we’re exploring how we can make use of the existing water network to accelerate deployment and help detect and minimise water leaks.

“We’re committed to getting homes and businesses across the country connected to better broadband and this cutting-edge project is an exciting example of the bold measures this government is leading on to level up communities with the very best digital connectivity.”

The first phase of the project, launching today, will focus on the legal and safety aspects of the project to ensure that combining clean water and telecoms services in a single pipeline is safe, secure and commercially viable before any technology is actually installed.

If successful, the project could be replicated in other parts of the country in order to help with the government’s £5bn Project Gigabit plans which will hopefully connect 85 per cent of UK premises to full-fibre broadband.

Yorkshire and Lincolnshire have more than 300,000 rural homes and businesses in line for an upgrade, including 56,800 premises in South Yorkshire.

In October, the next phase of the plan was announced which will see connectivity improved in over half a million rural premises.

Sam Bright, innovation programme manager at Yorkshire Water said: “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.”

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