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  • by Trevor Loveday

Telecoms fail to tap into water networks

A consortium that planned to install fibre optic telecommunication cables within a section of Yorkshire Water’s potable water pipe network has discontinued the project after it failed to secure regulatory approval from the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI).

The partnership of Yorkshire Water, Arcadis Consulting, University of Strathclyde and CommsWorld behind the Telecoms and Water Combined Operations (TAWCO) project sought to run fibre optic cables along a section of the potable water pipe network to: 

  • use the wide coverage of the drinking water network to supply high-speed internet cabling to remote locations without having to construct a separate ducting system; and

  • assign some of the fibre optic capacity to detect and locate leaks within the drinking water network. 

Anything installed within the drinking water network needs Regulation 31 approval from the DWI. For the TAWCO project, approvals were needed for the installation stage and the operating of the finished product. Some two years after the TAWCO project was awarded funding, the consortium has reported: “Approval for the finished product remains outstanding and subsequently there is a barrier to adoption until this issue is resolved.”

It added: “Combining two industries meant there was a lack of clarity when it came to industry approved standards which meant certification became a challenge.”

The consortium had completed the first of the project’s three phases – research to inform detailed scope, costs, and benefits for the fibre-in-water installation. The original project budget for all three phases was £5.4m, with a grant contribution of £3.2m from the UK government. The project expenditure at the end of phase one was £2.3m, with grant contribution of £1.6m, and £0.7m coming from in-kind contributions from the consortium partners.

The consortium said technology had been developed for installing and using telecom cables in a wastewater network and the clean-water project was drawn from that.

The drinking water network was seen as having better prospects than the sewers as it had greater coverage of consumers compared with wastewater pipes. And the distribution layout of the clean water network follows more closely how the telecom cables need to be installed to connect towns and cities with smaller diameter pipe networks reaching out to populations such as villages and towns, and down to individual property level.


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