UK gov hopes to use water pipes to deliver gigabit broadband to rural areas

The idea would help eliminate up to 80% of the costs associated with installing a new network

Water flowing out of a blue pipe

The UK's government is calling on the country's innovators to find ways to feed fibre optic cables through water pipes to help speed up the rollout of gigabit broadband to rural areas.

A £4 million fund has been made available, part of which will go towards technology that can identify and repair water leaks.

Traditional infrastructure development involves the installation of poles and ducts, which can account for up to 80% of the cost of building new gigabit-capable broadband networks, according to the government.

To sidestep this, the government has proposed routing fibre optic cables through the existing water pipe network, provided a cost-effective solution is offered up by the broadband industry.

"The cost of digging up roads and land is the biggest obstacle telecoms companies face when connecting hard-to-reach areas to better broadband," digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said. "But beneath our feet there is a vast network of pipes reaching virtually every building in the country.

"So we are calling on Britain's brilliant innovators to help us use this infrastructure to serve a dual purpose of serving up not just fresh and clean water but also lightning-fast digital connectivity."

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Any ideas put forward to trial fibre optic cables through water mains will need approval from the Drink Water Inspectorate before being used in a real-world setting, according to the government.

"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," said Stephen Unger, commissioner at the Geospatial Commission. "Our ambition must be for reliable broadband to become as easy to access tomorrow as drinking water is today."

The government's current target is to bring gigabit broadband to at least 85% of UK properties by 2025, although it will also seek innovative ideas to bring this as close to 100% as possible.

This includes granting broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducks, as well as launching a consultation on changing regulations to make infrastructure sharing easier.

Previous plans to roll out gigabit broadband to the entirety of the UK by 2025 would have cost up to £30 billion and required 30,000 additional workers, according to an assessment by BT. The idea would eventually be scrapped after a DCMS report discovered "a litany" of shortcomings in the original proposal.

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