UK utility Yorkshire Water is piloting the rollout of broadband internet to rural properties using the pipe network.
Levelling up rural areas
Water pipes could help speed up the rollout of superfast broadband to rural areas.
A £1.2 million government grant will help to kickstart the UK’s first pilot ‘Fibre in water’ project involving utility Yorkshire Water, together with engineering consultancy Arcadis and the University of Strathclyde.
Following an initial investigation, Yorkshire Water would deliver fibre optic cables with gigabit-capable connections to 17km of its water network in the south.
“The technology for fibre in water has significantly progressed in recent years.”
It's hoped that using existing underground water infrastructure could speed up the deployment and reduce the disruption and cost of fast internet connections to rural areas.
As well as the provision of internet services, the utility believes the cables will also be able to “detect cracks, bursts and leaks”, which could then be “repaired quicker, reducing water loss and disruption to customers”.
“Digging up roads and land is one of the biggest obstacles to rolling out faster broadband,” said digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez.
"We’re investing to explore how we can make use of the existing water network to accelerate deployment and also help detect and prevent water leaks.”
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."
The first technology to insert fibre optic cables into water pipes was approved for use in the UK in 2019.
Collaboration is also underway between British start-up nuron, Sheffield University and Northumbrian Water to pilot fibre sensing technology in sewer pipes.
For the Yorkshire Water project, the first phase will focus on the legal and safety aspects of combining clean water and telecoms services in a single pipeline.
The University of Strathclyde said it would install a private 5G network at two remote locations in Yorkshire and provide backhaul links that support the network.
According to the university, materials that will come into contact with the water supply have been approved for use in the UK, and they have already been deployed in water pipes in other countries such as Spain.
The trials will last for up to two years, and, if successful, the technology could be operational in networks from 2024 onwards.