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Yorkshire businesses first to trial cost-cutting water pipe broadband

If found to be safe, the technology could be deployed in water networks around the country from 2024

Yorkshire businesses will be the first to test the cost-cutting benefits of gigabit broadband being deployed through drinking water pipes, the government has announced.

The trial, led by Yorkshire Water, is set to last up to two years and use 17 km-long active water pipes between the South Yorkshire towns of Barnsley and Penistone, connecting as many as 8,500 homes and businesses along its route.

If found to be safe and compliant with legal requirements, the technology could become operational in water networks around the country from 2024.

The announcement comes eight months after the UK government announced a £4 million fund for innovators to find ways to feed fibre optic cables through water pipes, in an effort to help speed up the rollout of gigabit broadband to rural areas, all while saving costs.

Up to 80% of the expenses used to build new gigabit-capable broadband networks come from the development of poles and ducts, according to the government, with works often involving digging up rural roads and limiting access to remote villages.

Digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez described road works as “one of the biggest obstacles to rolling out faster broadband”, adding that the issue prompted DCMS to explore how water pipes can be used to “accelerate deployment” while minimising leaks.

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“We’re committed to getting homes and businesses across the country connected to better broadband and this cutting-edge project is an exciting example of the bold measures this government is leading on to level up communities with the very best digital connectivity,” she added.

Yorkshire Water has received a £1.2 million grant to kickstart the trial, with its innovation programme manager Sam Bright saying that the water services company is “very pleased that the government is supporting the development of the Fibre in Water solution”.

According to Bright, deploying broadband through water pipes “can reduce the environmental impact and day-to-day disruptions that can be caused by both water and telecom 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,” he added.

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