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UK to trial running full fibre connections through water pipes

Telecommunication tower on the field against the sky

A UK government-led Fibre in Water trial will see full fibre-optic cable deployed through 17km of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone.

The government has stumped up £1.2 million for the design stage of the project, which is being run by Yorkshire Water, Arcadis and University of Strathclyde, with another £2 million on the table once this stage has been reviewed.

Once installed, the idea is that broadband providers could then hook up 8,500 homes and businesses which are along the route. It’s being pitched as a greener, quicker and more cost-effective way of laying full fibre, without the need to dig up vast swathes of roads and earth.

The network will also apparently be used to set up 5G masts to for wireless broadband to reach remote areas along the line where laying fibre would be too expensive for the number of properties in the area.  There is also an element of the trial looking at how the fibre cabling can help water authorities detect leaks in the water pipes.

“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,” said Sam Bright, Innovation Programme Manager at Yorkshire Water. “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 trials will last for up to two years and, if successful, the technology could be operational in networks from 2024 and could be replicated in other parts of the country.

When the government makes announcements about telecoms it can sometimes seem like vague lip-service or overtly political. However this more ‘bottom up’ initiative, though based on government support, feels like quite a practical and crafty scheme that could help boost the country’s connectivity, so it will be interesting to see how the trial pans out.


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