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South Yorkshire to test fiber broadband through water pipes

No actual users harmed yet as dept tests safety of pushing water, telecoms services in single pipeline

Parts of South Yorkshire are to get fiber broadband run through mains water pipes in a two-year trial to evaluate the viability of the technology for connecting more homes.

The move will see fiber-optic cable strung through 17 kilometers of water mains between Barnsley and Penistone under a government-sanctioned technology trial. The project appears to be part of a £4m fund announced last year to trial ways of connecting up hard-to-reach homes without digging up roads.

Another section of the trial will be to test out whether fiber installed inside water pipes can be used to help water companies detect leaks, and so cut down on water wastage.

According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the new project has the potential to connect up to 8,500 homes and businesses to faster broadband, but it seems it would be left up to broadband operators to actually tap into the fiber in the pipes and provide the last few metres of connection to subscribers’ homes.

In fact, a spokesperson for the DCMS told us that one of the aims of the pilot is to examine all aspects of the deployment to ensure a viable commercial service can be delivered, so it appears that no homes will actually be connected during the two-year trial, but only afterwards if it proves successful.

The DCMS also said that the first phase of the project starting today will focus solely on the legal and safety aspects of this solution, to ensure that combining water and telecoms services in a single pipeline is safe, secure and commercially viable before any technology is actually installed.

The spokesperson told us that this investigation phase starts now and is due for completion by 31 May 2023, leading to a live trial in around 12 months' time. The final year of the project will focus on developing a roadmap to more widespread deployment.

If successful, the project could be replicated in other parts of the country and could turbocharge the government's Project Gigabit, according to the DCMS. Announced last year, this is intended to connect up the millions of rural homes and businesses that are currently poorly served by broadband, often because the telecoms companies consider it uneconomical to run fiber to their locations.

Yorkshire and Lincolnshire apparently have more than 300,000 rural homes and businesses in line for an upgrade, with 56,800 of those premises in South Yorkshire where the trial will take place.

water treatment plant

Tomorrow Water thinks we should colocate datacenters and sewage plants


“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,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez, in a canned statement.

The project is being led by Yorkshire Water working with Arcadis, a sustainable design and engineering consultancy, and the University of Strathclyde. The tests involving fiber sensors in the pipes are to see if water companies can use the technology to improve the speed and accuracy with which they can identify a leak and repair it, preferably before it causes a problem for consumers.

Arcadis is also involved in another current project mixing water and data – that of colocating datacenters with sewage treatment plants in Korea in order to save energy and water. ®

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