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UK fibre-in-water scheme lands £1.2m funding

UK water provider, Yorkshire Water and its partners have received a £1.2m government grant to kick-start research and development of fibre-in-water in the UK. 

Work will be carried out by the utility company, alongside engineering firm, Arcadis and researchers at the University of Strathclyde, to find out whether its network of water pipes can carry fibre-optic cables. If the project is successful, it is hoped to offer a solution to the challenge of getting fibre broadband into hard-to-reach areas.

The additional benefit is that the cables could help Yorkshire Water to detect cracks and leaks on its pipes, so they can be fixed more quickly, resulting in less water. The funding was allocated under the government’s Fibre in Water open competition, which launched last year to allocate up to £4m of research and development funding to projects that develop and build pilots to facilitate connecting the hardest to reach areas of the UK, with advanced fixed and mobile telecoms services and reduce water leakage from potable water pipes. 

Yorkshire Water’s initial plan is to put the fibre cables into ‘messenger pipes’. These pipes will protect the cables and make sure they don’t touch the water. The water company is carrying out investigations in South Yorkshire to plan the pilot, which would be a first for the UK. If the scheme passes the initial investigative phase, fibre optic cables will be laid within 17km of Yorkshire Water’s live network between Barnsley and Penistone in South Yorkshire.

Speaking about the funding, Sam Bright, innovation programme manager at Yorkshire Water said: ‘We are very pleased that the government is supporting the development of the fibre in water solution which can reduce the environmental impact and day-to-day disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecoms companies’ activities. The technology for fibre in water has significantly progressed in recent years and this project will now enable us to fully develop its potential to help improve access to better broadband in hard-to-reach areas and further reduce leakage on our networks.’ 

The UK’s digital infrastructure minister, Julia Lopez also commented: ‘Digging up roads and land is one of the biggest obstacles to rolling out faster broadband, so we’re investing to explore how we can make use of the existing water network to accelerate deployment and also help detect and prevent water leaks. We’re committed to breaking down barriers to better broadband and this pioneering project is an exciting example of the bold measures this government is leading on to level up communities with top-of-the-range digital connectivity.’


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