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Gigaclear Harness Disused Water Mains for UK Fibre Optic Broadband

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 (3:38 pm) - Score 1,506
gigaclear rural path fibre optic broadband

Fibre optic ISP Gigaclear has confirmed that they’re working with the largest water-only supplier in the United Kingdom, Affinity Water, to pilot a new approach in rural Hertfordshire that could see them running their ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) broadband cables through disused water mains.

In the past we’ve seen plenty of examples where operators’ have tried to harness existing underground systems, such as active sewers, in order to run their high capacity fibre optic cables. Sometimes this can work well, but in other cases the problems have made such methods unviable (e.g. the sewer might not be stable enough to support their cables).

However Gigaclear’s new approach appears to involve running their fibre optic cables through existing pipe work, which is challenging not least due to the uneven build-up of elements like lime-scale, as well as other contaminants or damage that might be caused along the pipe. But of course that’s precisely why you trial these things first.

Chris Harrison, Gigaclear’s Head of Design, said:

“On paper, the concept of using existing infrastructure to deliver the latest technology direct to people’s homes makes perfect sense. This feasibility study will help us understand if we can turn a great idea into reality.

If it’s successful, it will bring significant benefits to our customers. Because Gigaclear is building completely new broadband networks, putting our fibres through the disused pipes would mean we don’t have to dig new trenches to lay cables – minimising the disruption to the rural communities in which we work. It would also speed up our build programme, particularly in areas where we would otherwise need to dig in or beside roads as the permitting and traffic management planning process to enable this can be mean lengthy delays in the implementation of the network.

As an innovative company, it seems only right that we should consider innovative ways of delivering our technologically advanced product and this has the potential to do just that.”

One other problem with disused water mains is that a lot of utility companies will often either directly upgrade the infrastructure (i.e. make the mains active again) or completely remove whole sections of the pipework, such as in order to make land environmentally safe for re-building or to farm.

Never the less Gigaclear claims that some of the early results from their initial pilot, which is being run between the villages of Furneux Pelham and Little Hormead, have produced a “positive” outcome. Both partners now appear to be “optimistic that disused pipes could be used in the construction of Gigaclear’s new networks in this region” and similar arrangements are being considered for other parts of the country.

In theory there could be millions of tons of disused water pipes across the UK, many of which have been abandoned and some of these mains are large diameter cast iron pipes from disused reservoirs or pumping stations. Clearly an opportunity does exist, even if it might not work everywhere.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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9 Responses
  1. Avatar Walter G M Willcox

    I wish Gigaclear every success with this innovative idea.

    Another similar idea has already been implemented by B4RN.org.uk who have installed their blown fibre tubes in the abandoned gas main running along a disused railway line between Casterton towards Dent. Being a gas pipe it was found to be in pristine condition internally although the old valves had to be removed and the pipe cut roughly every 100 m to allow for the rodding operation.

    • Avatar 125uS

      186K built a business out of running fibre down disused gas trunks – they were owned by Centrica.

      Trunk fibre is ‘easy’ – it’s the last mile that’s tricky.

  2. Avatar TheFacts

    Clearly a better scheme than using live pipes as one company once proposed.

  3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    I and some neighbours tried to get Severn Trent to agree to this in our valley. They were completely uncooperative.

    • Yes that’s part of the battle and generally Utility companies won’t seriously engage unless you’re a company with some established clout behind you (financial and legal protections are usually important), so you’d need to be more than just a group of neighbours asking.

      In fairness you can understand the desire to protect their infrastructure, but equally we’ve seen a few utility companies dismiss much bigger and entirely viable proposals from major operators too.

    • Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

      In general, I agree with you, Mark, but in this case it was a three mile pipe run that was a mixture of cast iron in some places and asbestos in another. It had been superseded years ago by a modern pipe running in parallel to it. There is no way they would have recommissioned it for drinking water although that was the eventual reason they gave after a year of trying to wrest an answer from them (worse than BT!). One thing I did wonder was whether recent requirements of utility providers to share infrastructure might have unlocked it, but I seem to recall that thus only applies to ‘live’ infrastructure. Others’ opinions on this would be interesting.

  4. Avatar TomD

    Well, not sure it’s sped up deployment very much here: the roadworks permit for excavating water mains by Gigaclear in Furneux Pelham is scheduled for mid-March 2017 – 7 months on from this news story.
    Also BT are now upgrading the local cabinet just to muddy the waters

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