Fibre broadband cables could be fed through the UK’s water pipes as part of the government’s plan to speed up the nationwide rollout of superfast broadband and mobile coverage in rural areas. Under the three-year ‘Fibre in Water’ programme – which is scheduled to conclude in March 2024 – the government will invest GBP4 million (USD5.5 million) in the project, which will also look to test solutions that reduce the amount of water lost every day due to leaks. Any solution used to trial fibre-optic cables in the water mains will be approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) before being used in a real world setting, the DCMS noted, though highlighted the fact that fibre has already been deployed in water pipes in other countries such as Spain.
A competition has been launched to select a consortium, which could comprise telecoms companies, utility providers and engineering companies, to lead and deliver the project. As part of this, a region or multiple regions of the country will be selected to host the trial, and a deadline for applications of 4 October 2021 has been set.
Meanwhile, the government body has also confirmed that it is considering giving broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts to boost the rollout of next-generation broadband – including electricity, gas and sewer networks – and will soon respond to a consultation on changing regulations to make infrastructure sharing easier. Commenting, Stephen Unger, Commissioner at the Geospatial Commission, said: ‘Fibre is the future of digital communications. Its unmatched performance and reliability can seamlessly connect our society together. But it took over a hundred years to build the legacy copper network, so replacing it with fibre won’t be easy … The best way to meet this challenge is to use existing infrastructure, such as the water pipes that already reach every home and business in the country. Our ambition must be for reliable broadband to become as easy to access tomorrow as drinking water is today.’