Rural broadband supplier Gigaclear is investigating the feasibility of using disused water mains to house the cables needed to deliver its fibre-to-the-premises broadband services into or within rural environments.
Working in partnership with Affinity Water, the largest water-only supplier in the UK, Gigaclear is carrying out a pilot project on the utility company’s out-of-use pipes in an area of rural Hertfordshire, between the villages of Furneux Pelham and Little Hormead. The project aims to establish the overall feasibility of the concept and its scalability, as well as testing the technical aspects of how to install the fibres through the pipes.
Chris Harrison, Gigaclear’s head of design, commented: “On paper, the concept of using existing infrastructure to deliver the latest technology direct to people’s homes makes perfect sense. This feasibility study will help us understand if we can turn a great idea into reality.”
“As an innovative company, it seems only right that we should consider innovative ways of delivering our technologically advanced product and this has the potential to do just that,” Harrison added. If the pilot is successful, it will bring significant benefits to customers, Gigaclear believes.
“Because Gigaclear is building completely new broadband networks, putting the fibres through disused pipes would mean we don’t have to dig new trenches to lay cables – minimising the disruption during installation,” said Harrison. “It could also speed up the build programme, particularly in areas where we would otherwise need to dig in or beside roads, as the permit and traffic management planning process to enable this can cause lengthy delays.
Although the technology exists to install fibre-optic cabling inside in-use water pipes, Water UK, the organisation representing water service providers in the UK, considers that water companies should not allow the introduction of such cabling into potable water systems, due to risks of contamination and potential problems with repair and maintenance (see Water UK statement). However, abandoned water pipes are considered fair game, although they will be less widely available.
With early results from the investigation work proving positive, both Gigaclear and Affinity Water are optimistic that disused pipes could be used in the construction of Gigaclear’s new networks in this region. If the final outcome of the trial proves successful it could mark the start of similar partnerships with other suppliers throughout the country.
Gigaclear plans to reach 50,000 homes with its network by the end of the year and has ambitions to cover many more (see CityFibre and Gigaclear aim to close UK digital divide).