A trial deploying fiber optic cables via drinking water mains was launched this week in pipes in England with potential to connect up to 8,500 homes and businesses, as well as 5G antennas, according to the U.K. Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport.
Negating the need to dig up roads, the trial promises to accelerate the rollout of broadband as fiber-optic cables are deployed through 10.5 miles of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone in northern England.
“Civil works, in particular installing new ducts and poles, can make up as much as four fifths of the costs to industry of building new gigabit-capable broadband networks,” Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez said in a press release. “The Fiber in Water scheme will demonstrate what could be a greener, quicker and more cost-effective way of connecting fiber optic cables to homes, businesses and mobile masts, without the disruption caused by digging up roads and land.”
Along with expanding the reach of gigabit internet, the trial will also explore how fiber can help the water industry detect leaks, operate more efficiently and lower the cost of drinking water. This project, delivered by Yorkshire Water working with Arcadis and University of Strathclyde, will test solutions that reduce water leaks by putting fiber sensors in the pipes, which allow water companies to improve the speed and accuracy with which they can identify a leak and repair it.
Sam Bright, Innovation Programme Manager at Yorkshire Water, said in a press release, “The development of the Fiber-in-Water solution can reduce the environmental impact and day-to-day disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecoms companies’ activities.”
The water pipe trials are a part of Project Gigabit, which is a $6.5 billion program to connect hard-to-reach places across the U.K. with gigabit broadband. The trials will last for up to two years and, if successful, the technology could be operational in networks by 2024. Fiber has already been deployed in water pipes in other countries, such as Spain.
By J. Sharpe Smith, Inside Towers Technology Editor