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Trial Runs UK Fibre Broadband Cable via Yorkshire Water Mains

Wednesday, Apr 6th, 2022 (10:30 pm) - Score 2,640
water valve

The UK Government has today announced the start of their new “Fibre in Water” trial, which will test the deployment of Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband cables through 17km of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone (Yorkshire). In theory, this could help to cut the cost of rural broadband delivery and reduce leaks.

The Government and its Building Digital UK (BDUK) agency have long been examining ways in which existing electricity, gas, water and sewage networks could be harnessed in order to improve the spread of “full fibre” connectivity. This is because the main bulk of costs from deploying FTTP comes from the civil engineering side, thus anything that could reduce this is worth examining.

NOTE: Some 20% of water put into the public supply is wasted each day due to leaks, but running optical fibre and sensors down such pipes could create a network for monitoring and identifying leaks for a quicker repair.

Infrastructure sharing often seems like the obvious solution, but as we’ve said before, the reality can be complex. For example, running optical fibre cables down water and sewer networks doesn’t always work due to limited space, access and the fact that a lot of these things are too old or unstable to risk such disruption.

However, there are parts of the water network where it can work and commercial agreements, such as the one that Neos Networks signed with Thames Water in 2017 (here), do provide proof. But that was for a sewer network, where water quality is less of a concern, while the Government are talking about the same pipes that can be used for drinking water (this is already being done in Spain). Gigaclear also ran a similar trial in 2016, but this was for a disused water main (here).

The Fibre in Water Trial

Last year saw the government commit £4m to support a new Fibre in Water trial to test this idea (here), but at the time they were still looking for interested parties to get involved. Today’s announcement confirms the detail of what that trial will look like and how much it could help.

The trial, which is expected to last for up to 2 years, will see optical fibre being deployed through 17km of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone (South Yorkshire). Broadband networks (ISPs) could then “tap” into this network – no pun intended – to deliver gigabit-capable connections to an estimated 8,500 rural premises (homes and businesses) along the route. Some rural 5G mobile masts could also be linked up.

As indicated earlier, the trial will also explore how fibre can help the water industry to “detect leaks, operate more efficiently and lower the carbon cost of drinking water.” The first phase of the project – supported by Yorkshire Water, with Arcadis and the University of Strathclyde – will thus focus on the legal and safety aspects of this innovative solution (i.e. ensuring clean water and testing commercial viability).

The technology being deployed during the trials has been approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI), which requires rigorous testing ahead of approving any products and the processes that introduce them into pipes for drinking water.

Julia Lopez, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said:

“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.”

Sam Bright, Innovation Programme Manager at Yorkshire Water, said:

“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.”

The government has allocated £1.2m to the winning consortium to proceed with the design stage of the project, while a further £2m will only be granted once this stage has been reviewed. But if all goes well then the technology could, potentially, be operational in networks from 2024 onwards.

Now, for those of you wondering how this sort of technology might actually work, then a good example is Craley’s In-Pipe Fibre solution. This shows how fibre could be run down a water pipe and then exit it in order to reach individual homes.

All of this is designed to support the Government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme, which seeks to extend such broadband networks to reach at least 85% of UK premises by the end of 2025 and then “nationwide” (c.99%) coverage by 2030 (here and here). Commercial builds are expected to tackle the first 80%+ of premises, thus this project will focus on the final 20% of rural and semi-rural areas.

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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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13 Responses
  1. Avatar photo James T says:

    Just need a new Altnet called ‘HydroFibre’ to specialise in this…

    1. Avatar photo Bob bob says:

      This is pretty much old news it has been tride before and never went anywhere

      In rural areas telcomes tend to be ovehead so there seems to be no advantage to putting it inwater pipes

  2. Avatar photo Lee B says:

    I’ve been saying this for a few years now about gas pipes, once they stop providing gas to homes suddenly there are 1000’s of miles of sealed ducting leading to a high % of homes, making use of these would remove telegraph poles ready for Elons’ fleet of flying Teslas and alike lol

    1. Avatar photo Roger_Gooner says:

      Natural gas (and its partial replacement hydrogen gas) will be in use for decades until largely replaced by electricity produced by wind farms and nuclear reactors. We’re not going to see a sudden withdrawal of gas supply and so perhaps not a widespread use of the gas pipeline network for fires. Nevertheless any further use of utility infrastructure for broadband is to be welcomed.

  3. Avatar photo nabs says:

    This reminds me of Google TISP from years ago!

  4. Avatar photo BH says:

    Living in the West Yorkshire market town of Hebden Bridge, this could be great news. My local exchange is on the Openreach FTTP upgrade list, but with the distant ‘end of 2026’ completion date. Fingers crossed this could be one solution to get rural locations upgraded sooner rather than later.

  5. Avatar photo Ryan G says:

    One would hope they’ve done the proper testing on what happens to those fibres in 10 years of sitting in water pipes. Or 20. I hope they wont suddenly start leeching some horrible chemicals into it.

    I’m aware some water pipes are plastic too. But we’ve known about that for decades so we know which ones are fine and which are not.

  6. Avatar photo Mark says:

    This is nothing new, in the 1980’s water companies were running fibre in the sewers an domestic water pipes. Issue came when faults occurred.. to repair fibre or any cable in a water piece results in major disruption. Also the issue of working around valves, pumping plant and of course pressure changes that can destroy cables. Cables in the sewers get smashed to bits during storms as bricks etc.. can reach speeds of 100mph in sewers.
    Nice idea just not practical in the long term.

  7. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:

    The picture shows a valve, if you pass a fibre through it two things happen, the valve becomes non-functional because it won’t fully close, but worse than that, anyone attempting to close the valve will likely damage the fibre.

    1. Avatar photo Steve says:

      I believe they just bypass the valves, core the pipe, fibre that is in its own pipe comes out and then goes back in on the other side of the valve.

    2. Avatar photo Guy Cashmore says:


      True, however the water infrastructure in the UK is incredibly badly documented, anyone installing fibre through water pipes is going to face a lot of disruption and delay locating all the components that should be bypassed and they would undoubtedly miss many of them, creating future issues.

  8. Avatar photo Steve says:

    @guy, true, it might be abit of a challenge but surely they just do a ground survey and plot the route, i dont know but it also its more friendly to the environment and wouldnt cause so much disruption.

  9. Avatar photo Martin Streat says:

    I am a bit concerned this ahs not been thought through properly. In my road there are 2 valves and reducers on every joint. When there is a burst pipe are water board gangs going to repair fibre under water and mud? Can you put in two extra joints around every valve? I think not.

Comments are closed

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