Fiber in Water project will place fiber optic cables in water pipes to detect water leaks and help roll out high-speed broadband
Water pipes could be used to accelerate the rollout of high-speed broadband without digging roads as part of government plans to try out technology to boost digital connectivity.
Yorkshire Water has partnered with Arcadis and Strathclyde University to deliver the project which aims to reduce water leaks by installing fiber optic sensors in the pipes, helping water utilities improve the speed and accuracy with which they can identify and repair leaks.
Under the proposals, fiber optic cables would be laid over 17km of live drinking water pipelines between Barnsley and Penistone in South Yorkshire. Broadband companies can then leverage the network to deliver gigabit-compatible connections to up to 8,500 homes and businesses along the route.
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In a statement, Mark Harrop, senior director and head of the telecom sector at Arcadis, said: “Fiber in water technology has been around for a while, but what is missing is an operational and commercial model that meets the needs of both the telecom and water industries.”
Installing new channels and poles for new gigabit-capable broadband networks is disruptive and expensive. The Fiber in Water Scheme will show what a greener, faster and more cost-effective way to connect fiber optic cables to homes, businesses and mobile towers, without the inconvenience of excavating roads and land. The network will also be used to set up 5G towers 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 security aspects of this solution to ensure that combining clean water and telecom services in one pipeline is safe, secure and commercially viable.
If successful, the project could be replicated in other parts of the country and could accelerate the government’s £5bn Project Gigabit plan to improve broadband access in hard-to-reach areas.
Sam Bright, innovation program manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “We are delighted that the government is supporting the development of the Fiber in Water solution, which addresses the environmental impact and daily disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecom operators’ operations.
“In-water fiber technology has advanced significantly in recent years and this project will now allow us to fully develop its potential to improve access to better broadband in hard-to-reach areas and further reduce leakage on our networks.”
The trials will last up to two years and the technology could be operational in networks from 2024, pending the results of the project.