The government has shared detail on the first pilot project for its Fibre in Water scheme. The scheme aims to accelerate the rollout of full fibre broadband through deploying fibre-optic cables through drinking water mains.
Yorkshire Water will deploy fibre cables through 17 kilometres of water mains between Barnsley and Penistone. Broadband companies can then tap into the network to deliver gigabit-capable connections to an estimated 8,500 homes and businesses along the route.
The network will also be used to set up 5G masts to bring fast and reliable wireless broadband in locations where wired solutions are too expensive to deliver commercially. This is the first trial of its kind in the UK and it 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.
Sam Bright, innovation programme manager at Yorkshire Water, explained, “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.”
Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez, added, “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 will focus on the legal and safety aspects of deploying fibre in water mains, as well as ensuring 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 to help meet connectivity ambitions outlined in the government’s Project Gigabit strategy.