Fibre optic cables ‘fed through water pipes in broadband trial’

25 August 2021

Fibre optic cables could be fed through the nation’s water pipes as part of the government’s three-year plan to hasten the rollout of lightning-fast broadband and mobile coverage to businesses in rural areas.

A £4m war chest is being made available for cutting-edge innovators to trial quicker and more cost-effective ways of connecting fibre optic cables to, businesses, homes and mobile masts.

This new scheme is tipped to turbocharge the government’s £5bn Project Gigabit plan to level up broadband access in hard-to-reach areas as well as the £1bn Shared Rural Network, which will bring strong and reliable 4G phone signals to many of the most isolated parts of the nation.

“Broadband underpins the future of economic growth and much of our daily lives, so it is positive to hear of the government’s plan to speed up the nationwide rollout of highspeed internet access,” said Dahwood Ahmed, regional director UK&I at Extreme Networks.

“That being said, the scale of this huge national challenge cannot be understated. Ofcom reports that only 14% of UK properties currently have access to fibre broadband.”

Ahmed added that feeding cables through the country’s water pipes is a smart, efficient and creative approach. However, to fully close the connectivity gap, the problem needs to be addressed with more than one solution.

“One already proven option is the adoption of AltNets, also known as alternative networks,” he said. “These providers create their own networks to offer last mile connectivity without relying on the UK’s existing copper network. To close the UK connectivity gap once and for all, the government and technology innovators need to work together. Only then will citizens and businesses in the UK enjoy infinitely distributed high-speed connectivity, wherever they may be located.”

The digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman said the government is “calling on Britain’s brilliant innovators to help us use this infrastructure to serve a dual purpose of serving up not just fresh and clean water but also lightning-fast digital connectivity”.

The fund has been launched after the government in June kicked off a call for evidence on how more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts could be used to boost the rollout of next-generation broadband.

A consortium, expected to be made up of telecoms companies, utility providers and engineering companies, will be selected to deliver the project. Applications are due by October 4 and any proposal will require approval by the Drinking Water Inspectorate.

Electricity and gas companies, water and sewer networks and telecoms groups have until September 4 to respond to the consultation on changing regulations to make infrastructure sharing easier. Broadband cables have already been deployed in water pipes in other countries, including Spain.