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SSE Telecoms UK to Lay Fibre Optic Cables in the Thames Water Sewers

Tuesday, Nov 14th, 2017 (11:20 am) - Score 3,079

SSE Enterprise Telecoms has today announced a new deal with Thames Water, which is the UK’s largest water and wastewater company, that will enable them to extend their fibre optic broadband and ethernet network by laying new cables through the sewers. Fibre-in-the-Sewers (FITS).

The new “operating licence to deploy” agreement is being positioned as a response to the recent Dark Fibre Access (DFA) ruling by the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT), which has meant that rival providers will not be able to access Openreach’s (BT) existing fibre optic cables to increase competition. At least not unless Ofcom finds another way to get the measure introduced.

The regulator viewed DFA as a change that could foster more competition and speed-up the roll-out of faster broadband services around the UK (e.g. backhaul capacity for new networks). Several ISPs (TalkTalk, SSE Telecoms etc.) had already made plans to harness the service, but Ofcom’s incorrect market definitions were stomped on by the CAT and they may now have to run their 2016 Business Connectivity Review again.


Meanwhile infrastructure builders, such as Openreach, Virgin Media, Cityfibre and Zayo, have long feared that DFA could discourage operators’ from investing to build their own fibre optic networks and were happy to see DFA shelved. Openreach has since proposed a kind of virtual dark fibre solution called Filter Connect (Optical Spectrum Access) but SSE views this as an “inadequate alternative” (here).

In the meantime SSE hopes that their deal with Thames Water will act as a partial solution and enable them to reduce network deployment costs (possibly by as much as 60%) and deploy connectivity services up to 10 times faster than through traditional digs.

Mike Magee, Director of Service Solutions at SSE Enterprise, said:

“Businesses fundamentally rely on their network to underpin everyday operations. With an ever-increasing demand for connectivity, network infrastructures require higher resiliency and improved diversity. Estimates suggest there are as many as 3,000 enterprises in the finance and insurance sectors in the City of London area alone, each vying for connectivity. This has made the demand for unique, truly diverse network routes hard to achieve. We’ve identified a way to solve this by leveraging the waste water network.

With the sensitive information that large businesses and financial services firms hold, coupled with regulatory pressures, networks must be secure and robust. But it shouldn’t be forgotten that network deployment is about competitive advantage – being able to provide a guaranteed, instant customer experience is no longer a ‘nice to have’.

As technology changes and new innovations are released, it is essential that networks can cope with increased capacity requirements and have the ability to easily scale their connectivity services to meet this need. Our ‘operating licence to deploy’ with Thames Water allows us to be one of few to genuinely fit the sector’s needs.”

Apparently the Thames Water network sits as deep as 10 metres underground and the geographic spread of its waste water network should make it useful for network expansion to reach businesses in London, as well as further afield.

Richard Hill, Head of Property at Thames Water, added:

“Our Victorian sewers are already home to a number of pipes and cables belonging to other utility companies and we’re glad to also now be supporting SSE Enterprise Telecoms. Reducing roadworks and traffic congestion is something hugely important to us, so it’s great to help a fellow utility company do the same by allowing them to make use of our existing infrastructure.”

On the surface this sounds like a good idea and no doubt there will be viable sewers, although long-time readers of ISPreview.co.uk will know that such an approach has been tried before and it doesn’t always work out quite as planned (experiences vary). Many sewers lack the capacity to add new cables and others can be positively unstable, which can make it very hard to introduce new cables without causing damage or attracting extra costs.


The deal is however said to allow Thames Water to utilise its existing infrastructure “without any disruption to general operations“, thus we’d assume that SSE has been able to test their approach first and found it to be viable. SSE Enterprise Telecoms recently announced Phase 3 of its network expansion programme, Project Edge, which brings the total number of UK exchanges served by their fibre network to 140 (300,000 business postcodes served).

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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