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Broadband via water pipes set to be trialled in South Yorkshire

Water mains in parts of South Yorkshire could be used to accelerate the rollout of faster broadband without digging roads as part of government plans to test innovative technologies to boost digital connectivity across the UK.

The project, carried out by Yorkshire Water in conjunction with Arcadis and the University of Strathclyde, will test solutions that reduce water leakage by placing fiber sensors in pipes that enable water companies to improve speed and precision with which they can identify a leak and fix it, often before it causes a problem for consumers.

According to the proposals, fiber optic cables would be deployed along 17 kilometers of live drinking water mains between Barnsley and Penistone as part of a technology trial. Broadband companies could then tap into the network to deliver gigabit-enabled connections to up to 8,500 homes and businesses along the route.

Civil works, particularly the installation of new ducts and poles, can account for up to four-fifths of the cost to the industry of building new gigabit-enabled broadband networks. The Fiber in Water program will demonstrate what could be a greener, faster and more cost-effective way to connect fiber optic cables to homes, businesses and mobile masts, without the disruption caused by road and land digging.

The network will also be used to set up 5G masts to bring fast and reliable wireless broadband to hard-to-reach communities where wired solutions are too expensive to provide commercially. The first trial of its kind in the UK, it will also explore how fiber can help the water industry detect leaks, operate more efficiently and reduce the carbon cost of drinking water.

Peter Oosterveer, CEO of Arcadis, said: “This is an ambitious and game-changing project that will contribute to the sustainability of water and telecommunications infrastructure, and I am delighted that Arcadis is at the forefront. keeps developing new and scalable solutions for some of today’s most pressing challenges. Fiber in the water technology will be essential when it comes to finding faster, cleaner and more cost-effective ways to ensure that hard-to-reach communities can access vital broadband services, while simultaneously reducing water leaks on the network.

Mark Harrop, Senior Director and Head of Telecommunications Sector at Arcadis, said: “It is in this type of project that the depth and breadth of Arcadis comes into its own. Fiber in water technology has been around for some time, but what is missing is an operational and business model that meets the needs of the telecommunications and water industries. Working across both sectors, Arcadis is well placed to help identify pain points and develop a viable approach that will make fiber in the water a realistic choice for operators implementing the UK government’s Project Gigabit plan. What’s really nice is that together with Yorkshire Water we’re taking the project to South Yorkshire and to Barnsley, where Arcadis recently completed a project for the Mayor’s Combined Authority, developing the digital infrastructure strategy for the South Yorkshire.

Sam Bright, Innovation Program Manager at Yorkshire Water, said: “We are very pleased that the government is supporting the development of the Fiber in Water solution which can reduce the environmental impact and daily disruption that can be caused both by water and the activities of telecommunications companies. Fiber in the water technology has advanced significantly in recent years and this project will now allow us to fully develop its potential to help improve access to better broadband in hard to reach areas and further reduce leaks on our networks.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez added: “Road and land digging is one of the biggest barriers to rolling out faster broadband, so we are investing to explore how we can use the existing water network to expedite deployment and also help detect and prevent water leaks. We are committed to removing barriers to better broadband and this pioneering project is an exciting example of the bold steps this government is taking to provide communities with premium digital connectivity.

If successful, the project could be replicated in other parts of the country and could boost the UK government’s £5 billion Gigabit project to improve broadband access in hard-to-reach areas. The trials will last up to two years and, if successful, the technology could be operational in the networks from 2024.