Broadband rollout trial to target rural areas via water pipes

The broadband rollout trial will target hard-to-reach homes through the UK’s water pipes
The broadband rollout trial will target hard-to-reach homes through the UK’s water pipes

Fibre broadband cables could be fed through water pipes as part of a plan to speed up the roll out of superfast broadband and improve mobile coverage in rural areas.

The three-year government trial aims to target remote farms and other properties in the countryside by feeding fibre optic cables through water mains.

The cost of digging up roads and land is the biggest obstacle telecoms companies face when connecting hard-to-reach areas to improve broadband.

The Fibre in Water project will also look to test solutions that reduce the amount of water lost every day due to leaks, which is 20% of the total put into the public supply.

It comes as farming groups say poor connectivity is a big issue for farmers, many of who still do not have fast and reliable broadband in order to run a modern-day farming business.

The NFU recently responded to a government consultation on access to broadband in rural areas, saying that good internet connections were 'so important' for a range of farm tasks, from banking to managing suppliers and logistics.

As part of the new scheme, announced on Monday (9 August), £4m of government funds has been released for telecoms firms, utility providers and engineering companies to help the plan come to fruition.

The scheme hopes to turbocharge the recently announced £5 billion Project Gigabit plan to level up broadband access in hard-to-reach rural areas.

And it comes following the announcement of the £1 billion Shared Rural Network, which aims to deliver 4G phone signals to isolated parts of the country.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: "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."

Using fibre optic cables in the water mains will need to be approved by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) before being used in a real world setting, as the body requires rigorous testing ahead of approving any products that can be used in drinking water pipes.

Fibre optic cables have already been deployed in water pipes in other countries, such as Spain.

The Fibre in Water project is due to conclude in March 2024. The final year of the project will explore scaling proven solutions right across the country.

Deadline for applications to the competition is 4 October.