back to article South Yorkshire to test fiber broadband through water pipes

Parts of South Yorkshire are to get fiber broadband run through mains water pipes in a two-year trial to evaluate the viability of the technology for connecting more homes. The move will see fiber-optic cable strung through 17 kilometers of water mains between Barnsley and Penistone under a government-sanctioned technology …

  1. John Robson Silver badge
    Windows

    Great idea...

    But how will they deal with valves?

    I thought they were going to use sewer pipes, since those shouldn't have valves in them very often.

    1. 42656e4d203239 Bronze badge

      Re: Great idea...

      I am pretty sure a gate valve (or a butterly valve for that matter) will make a great fibre cutter.

      Getting the fibre into and out of the pipe will be interesting (not quite NP hard but close!).

      Then there is the small matter of the guys typically employed to dig holes by the water companies not, generally, being the sharpest spade in the shed (or, more likely, back hoe in the garage)

      I am sure they will spend their budget assessing these issues with due dilligence!

      1. Captain Scarlet Silver badge

        Re: Great idea...

        To be fair, most times they have the most appualing data where to dig up, even after someone has been around to mark up a road it hasn't been accurate.

        1. Olafthemighty
          FAIL

          @Captain Scarlet

          I worked for Severn Trent for several years sending gangs out to fix burst mains: it once took 15 holes to find the right pipe, despite the chap with the detector wandering around the place! The lack of awareness of the network as a whole is staggering, with leakage figures in megalitres per day.

          1. Martin-73 Silver badge

            Re: @Captain Scarlet

            I am now reminded of that short 'speechless' film from the 50s or 60s, ' A home of your own' (it starred ronnie barker and many other well known people) and the water guy wandering round the new greenfield housing development, looking for the water main, couldn't find it... then he eventually got out the dowsing rods, and found the guy with the bladder problem. Minutes later the electricity board guy (I think it was) found the water main with a pickaxe. Need to re-watch

          2. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: @Captain Scarlet

            Then there's the leak-fixing problem that nobody likes to mention.

            What invariably happens is that a work gang fixes a leak. This now causes a main that's been leaking to be watertight and run at full pressure for the first time in months.

            The result is an interminable game of whack-a mole with new leaks until the company admits defeat, pisses everyone off by closing the road and puts in a new main.

            One around these parts got its leak fixed after many months. A few days later, a line of small springs erupted along the entire length of the street....

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Captain Scarlet

              “… watertight and run at full pressure for the first time in months.” uhn? decades I think.

            2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

              Re: @Captain Scarlet

              A few days later, a line of small springs erupted along the entire length of the street...

              I remember (many, many years ago) a bus dropping into a hole under the road that had been carved out by a somewhat leaking mains water pipe..

              Amazing how clay can be washed away by high pressure water spraying into it until what's left is too weak to support the weight of the tarmac and double-decker on top of it.

          3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

            Re: @Captain Scarlet

            Leaks from the mains are an interesting problem. Unless the network owner actually has to buy the water they have no interest in fixing leaks because it doesn't cost them anything. IIRC, and I'm happy to be corrected, this led to up to 30% loss in the network. This is one of the reasons why modern competition regulation aims to separate network owners (water, gas, electricity, etc.) from the resource providers. This also explains why so much is spent lobbying against such regulation!

    2. Nifty Silver badge

      Re: Great idea...

      "But how will they deal with valves?"

      Scroll down this page and there's a picture of a valve bypass, it's all part of the standard tech:

      https://www.craley.com/craley-in-pipe-fibre

      The same company also offers in-pipe sensing integrated with SCADA. I'm pretty sure that locating leaks could be quite accurate based on some sort of pressure differential calculation between sensors on the route.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: Great idea...

        >I'm pretty sure that locating leaks could be quite accurate

        I suspect locating leaks is relatively simple, once you've identified the small segment (sub-100 metres) of the 1000's of miles of pipe in each operators distribution network.

        The trouble is with all these add-ons is that they increase the number of connections and so due to the number required, massively increase the likelihood of introducing leaks in the new Blue poly pipes...

        Also s learnt with car engines and airplanes, the sensors themselves fail in "interesting" ways and so introduce a new maintenance requirement.

    3. Lars Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Great idea...

      "But how will they deal with valves".

      What valves? They are not pulled that far into houses I would guess.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Great idea...

        There are valves on the mains too. How do you think they fix a break on some side street without shutting off water to the entire city?

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Great idea...

          There has to be a solution to the valves or we would not read about it, but I think Nifty got it and also it's just "17 kilometres of water mains between Barnsley and Penistone".

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            Re: Great idea...

            They use special valves where the fiber bypasses on the outside.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Great idea...

              So they have to replace a huge number of buried valves to install the fibre... wouldn't it be easier to ... just run the fibre overhead, or to use a pipe which doesn't have valves...

              1. DS999 Silver badge

                Re: Great idea...

                Well the article says this is a "test", so presumably someone else is fronting the cost of replacing the valves, and why this is in "parts" of South Yorkshire - presumably parts where they are forced to replace water mains due to age or expanding capacity.

                If they're already digging big trenches to replace the mains I agree it would make more sense to run a separate fiber, but they aren't likely to be digging up the water mains for the entire city for decades.

                Whether it makes sense to replace the valves in areas they aren't replacing mains would depend on how many there are. At least that would be a limited amount of digging, which could probably be done with a disruption per location of only a day or two.

                There's a company running fiber in my city, and they've been doing the conduit underground without trenching. Basically they get all the buried utilities located (so you have to actually know where everything is underground) and then they a big machine that sort of pushes a conduit horizontally underground (in the grassy margin between the sidewalk and the street) about a block (~350 feet typically) at a time. You need the right kind of soil for that to work, I assume.

                1. kiwimuso
                  Thumb Up

                  Re: Great idea...

                  @DS999

                  This is a bit late, but I would just add that all of New Zealand's fibre (to my knowledge) is laid this way.

                  It's called "horizontal drilling" and at our previous property we had gas laid on with the same method.

                  They drilled down between 2 driveways for about 20 metres, then "steered" the drill to emerge at right angles, down a slope, a further 10 metres on.

                  When fibre was run in our current street, they had pre-drilled a pipe through the verges, then when they came to actually lay the cable, they simply ran it down the existing pipe, digging a hole at each property, cracking open the pipe to make the local connection to the premises.

                  They had the whole street of 18 or so houses done and connected in days.

          2. TeeCee Gold badge
            Coat

            Re: Great idea...

            Ah, Penistone. Doesn't matter whether they have fibre there, they still won't be able to sign up for an AOL account.

    4. AndrueC Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Great idea...

      I get a straw!

    5. itzman
      Coat

      Re: Great idea...

      I think they felt that there was enough shit in the sewer pipes already.

    6. innominatus

      Re: Great idea...

      Yes, use the sewer pipes for pr0n. Makes sense

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Great idea...

      No s**t

  2. PhilipN

    Where's Elon when you need him?

    Isn't there a way to use the water itself as the transmission medium?

    No scientist here - OK you knew that already.

    1. PhilipN

      Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

      For those DVers choosing not to share their vast knowledge this may be a good starting point :

      https://www.hydro-international.com/content/article/underwater-electromagnetic-propagation

    2. myhandler

      Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

      Elon will suggest a mini-sub. A tiny-sub.. that then pulls a thin fibre, which pulls a thicker fibre and so on.

      All that megaherz in the water though, homoeopaths will kick up a stink.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

        "All that megaherz in the water though, homoeopaths will kick up a stink."

        It'd only work if you dilute it enough. How many litres per hertz would that have to be?

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

          Litres/Hertz? Surely there's a correct Register unit for that?

          1. MyffyW

            Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

            I think the Bulgarian Airbag could potentially be used as both a unit of volume and a derived unit of frequency of oscillation.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

              and a derived unit of frequency of oscillation

              That would be the twerk / kilotwerk, shirley...

              1. Charlie Clark Silver badge
                Coat

                Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

                No, not Shirley, Janet…

                Mine's the macintosh

              2. MyffyW

                Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

                Not sure about twerking, just driving over the potholes on the local roads normally suffices.

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

        Elon will suggest a mini-sub.

        I'm sure Raquel Welch has to be involved somewhere.

      3. dajames Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Where's Elon when you need him?

        All that megaherz in the water though, homoeopaths will kick up a stink.

        Ah ... thanks, I get it now ... Homeopathic Broadband.

        You start with very little bandwidth, but by diluting with a lot of water you make it much more powerful.

        Genius ... if only it worked!

        Have a beer -- don't dilute it!

  3. AdamT

    Water proofing will be important

    From my days working for a submarine cable manufacturer I recall that keeping water away from the actual fibres is extremely important. The refractive index of water is close enough to glass that it kind of "wicks" the light out. So the cable is filled with some water repellent chemical etc. around the fibres (as well as the cable being waterproof, etc.) and the joints are similarly very well protected.

    Obviously any land based outdoor rated or buriable fibre should be similarly protected but it does feel like there is a bit of a difference to then sticking it in a high pressure, high flow water main!

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "between Barnsley and Penistone"

    They're going to have problems with their press releases blocked by the geographically challenged.

    1. Chloe Cresswell

      I was more thinking blocked due to Scunthorpe Syndrome.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Just as well they aren't going via Wombwell. (Yes, it's a place, yes it's in the Peoples' Republic of South Yorkshire).

        1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge
          Pirate

          re: Peoples' Republic of South Yorkshire

          That's no way to describe part of GOC!

    2. Fred Dibnah

      The fibre will be inserted with a catheter at the Penistone end.

  5. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    Yorkshire Water were known for being one of the most leaky water suppliers, so I wonder if they will be 1s and 0s coming out of people's tap too : -) ?

    1. Nobby_uk

      At least there will be no number 2's :)

    2. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Leaky pipes?! You were lucky. We 'ad to drink t' sand off t' floor! And we were 'appy.

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Childcatcher

      The potential for pollution of the drinking water also crossed my mind. There's an awful lot of porn on that internet thingy (or so I've been told). If a fibre breaks inside a water pipe, how are all those children going to be protected from porn leaking out of the taps?

  6. TRT Silver badge

    Of course the obvious question is...

    what's the wavelength?

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Of course the obvious question is...

      what's the wavelength?

      c/Kenneth

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    fiber installed inside water pipes can be used to help water companies detect leaks

    This will be useful, because if you're drilling into the water main 8500 times to tap into the cable for each individual customer, there are probably going to quite a few more of them. Also, won't the water supply need to be temporarily cut off for the whole street every time someone signs up for broadband fibre in order to drill a new hole for them?

    1. mtp

      Re: fiber installed inside water pipes can be used to help water companies detect leaks

      I think the idea is this is just to link towns not branch off into every house

      1. katrinab Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: fiber installed inside water pipes can be used to help water companies detect leaks

        But linking the towns is the easy bit. It is the bit between the exchange and the individual houses that is the most challenging/expensive part.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: fiber installed inside water pipes can be used to help water companies detect leaks

        From the article; "it would be left up to broadband operators to actually tap into the fiber in the pipes and provide the last few metres of connection to subscribers’ homes."

        That sound like they are going to run it down the pipes in the street, not just the mains to the town.

  8. Craig 2

    It should have been law years ago that all new housing being built had a large multi-purpose duct is laid for future use. Would have prevented a lot of repeat excavations.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      Agreed. In my town they replaced all the cast-iron gas pipes with plastic ones about 10 years ago. Almost every street in my estate was dug up. It would have cost them bugger extra all to lay some ducting or even empty pipe alongside to allow for future fibre. I guess that the benefit doesn't show up in this period's budget so no one wants to spend, but it's very short sighted.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        common ducting

        More likely "dog in the manger" economics. It needs the utility regulators and local authorities to bang heads together and make the suppliers agree on a common wayleave type of system so they can use each other's ducts. At the moment they all want their own and no-one else in it, leaving our local pavements like some sort of mad quilting project. The road is those 1930s big concrete slabs, which they don't like going through, and they make a horlicks of the reinstatement when they do.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: common ducting

          "It needs the utility regulators and local authorities to bang heads together"

          Very, vary hard. The local authorities are amongst those whose heads need to be banged, otherwise they'll conduct one of their rare resurfacings just before the utilities dig it up.

          1. Down not across Silver badge

            Re: common ducting

            The utilities aren't helping either.

            Power company was digging up roads/drives to fix their dodgy old cabling (this went on for year or two on almost monthly basis before they relented and replaced the whole cable ...or what they hadn't already replaced bit by bit ...either way the street was more dug up than not for couple of years).

            Cue someone smelling gas, the gas company comes to dig some more to see their pipes (not much needed as they were more or less all tangled with each other (the pipes/conduits, not the workers).

            Once all sorted the amount of fuss of "whose hole" it is and who should fill it and who should fix my drive once they had agreed on filling the hole. I think it was couple of weeks before I had my drive back.

            IIRC in the end it probably was the leccy company as they drew first on the jackhammer.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: common ducting

          You also can't share ducts at the moment - legislative separations, both vertical and horizontal, make it quite a big hole to lay them all at once (I've just done it for a new build).

          There is some logic here as well - you don't really want a gas leak to run along a duct that actually enters a building - so gas ducts terminate externally, with just a pipe entering the building (and a metal pipe by that point, so that a fire doesn't cause the gas main to rupture).

          1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: common ducting

            People never consider the drainage issues - a concrete-lined trench will fill with water sooner or later unless v well drained. Especially if the water main shares it.

            This presents a significant limitation on depth, if you want the conduit to be able to drain into the existing system the lowest point has to be above it. You're also going to want one way valves to stop a blocked drain backing up into the conduit.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: common ducting

              Even if it is well drained, because that drainage will eventually get clogged.

      2. katrinab Silver badge
        Flame

        No, it is that it is an entirely separate budget.

        Water - regulated by Ofwat, which is part of DEFROW (Department of Environment, Farming, and Rural Affairs

        Telephone - regulated by Ofcom, which is part of the Department of Culture, media, and sport

        Electricity & Gas - regulated by Ofgem, which is part of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
    2. Boothy Silver badge

      We actually have that on my street.

      New estate by Barrets (yes I know!), about 8 years ago now.

      They ran ducting (pipes), under the pavements all around the estate, with periodic manhole covers adjacent to the houses, with a smaller duct from each manhole running to each house (only to the outside wall).

      There was another run leaving the estate, ending at another larger manhole cover on an adjacent street (i.e an original pavement not part of the new estate), this seems to be adjacent to various on street boxes (i.e. BT cabinet etc).

      Initially these just had the telephone cables running through it. (No fibre, only ADSL services initially, we got VDLS/FTTC eventually, but still no FTTH via BT).

      Virgin Media turned up about 8 months ago offering their full fat fibre, several houses have opted for them (not me, so far), zero digging up of road or pavements required!

      No idea if this was voluntary (unlikely knowing Barrets), I suspect the local planning office have imposed some rules around new builds, to avoid digging roads up etc.

  9. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Coat

    I would just want to be sure...

    That they would pass my service through the clean water supply - I don't want any more sewage on my internet than is there already!

    Yeah, alright, I'm getting it...

    1. Commswonk

      Re: I would just want to be sure...

      I don't want any more sewage on my internet than is there already!

      IMHO the greater risk is the leak of internet shit (of which there is plenty) into a clean water supply.

      Yuk...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I would just want to be sure...

        Or the nano drone subs tapping in…

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I would just want to be sure...

      It might mean all the crap gets flushed out.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Microplastics and leached BPA...

    ...included in your drinking water!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

      Exactly. They should be using sewer pipes if they want to use pipes. I don't want to be drinking bits of fibre!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

        I don't want to be drinking bits of fibre!

        But, but... more fibre in your diet is supposed to be good for you!

      2. Fred Dibnah

        Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

        I already have a shitty broadband connection.

    2. DS999 Silver badge

      I've got some bad news for you

      You already have microplastics in your water, no matter where you live. They are even in the rain now!

      I would assume they'd choose a coating for the fiber to avoid such issues as much as possible. Water pipes in new construction homes (at least in the US) is almost exclusively PEX and has been for a few decades, so that's an obvious choice for a problem free (or at least not creating any additional problems) coating.

    3. MyffyW

      Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

      I have it on good authority there will be a content filter, to ensure that only PG-rated material is conveyed through drinking water pipes. R-rated and higher material (everything from "oo-er" through to "utter filth") will be conveyed through the sewage pipes. Appropriate given the amount of shit that gets downloaded these days.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

        In other words dumps Trump?’

    4. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Microplastics and leached BPA...

      The rules for anything in contact with potable water are very strict; material testing is mandatory (with a few exceptions), repeated every few years (5 or 6). I worked for a company who made a product used in filtration at treatment works. Unbeknown to them, their supplier of a (plastic) component changed the release-compound used in the mould. That batch failed the approvals and there was a retrospective review of installations/spares. It's not easy changing 22,000 parts which are under water.

      I prefer water which has been double-treated and processed...... -->

  11. Ochib

    This reminds me of the Google April Fools

    Google TiSP (short for Toilet Internet Service Provider)

    https://archive.google.com/tisp/index.html

  12. Random Username

    Security issue?

    Surely there will be an increased risk of phishing?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Security issue?

      Or even a surge of phlushing info exploits?

  13. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch

    "...the Internet is [...] not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."

    - Ted Stevens (R-AK)

    Not sure I want material from a leaky tube.

  14. redpola

    “The internet’s down.”

    “Never mind. Let’s have a nice cup of tea while we wait for it to come back up. Fill the kettle up won’t you?”

    “…”

  15. Roger Kynaston Silver badge
    Flame

    Yorkshire!

    Is Infosys involved in any way?

  16. wolfetone Silver badge
    Holmes

    Didn't Google promote this as an April Fool's joke 10 years ago?

  17. Zanzibar Rastapopulous

    Microwaves..

    What's wrong with simple microwave links?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Microwaves..

      Weather, trees, cooked pheasants :-)

      1. Clunking Fist

        Re: Microwaves..

        But that's how we like our pheasants. The cooked peasants, not so much.

  18. dmlee

    Reminds me of a proposal in the early 2000s called 'BOGS' (broadband over gas and sewer pipes), which seemed to involve using the pipes as a private radio environment for transmitting internet data using RF signals - similarly to Cable Internet.

    Inside an underground environment, you have the whole radio spectrum available without interfering with other users.

    Putting optical fibres inside the pipes seems a much better idea!

  19. A.P. Veening Silver badge

    Reminds me of a similar experiment here in the Netherlands, difference being that they used gas pipes instead of water pipes. Don't know what came of it, never heard about it again.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge
      Coat

      Guess it wasn't an idea that blew up then?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Social media

    And you thought it was full of shit before.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obviously cannot attribute

    Back in the day, a private consultant one office over had a massive Sun box and odd gear. Guy peddled in to work on his bike wearing shorts, Aloha shirt, sandals (coastal Cal). Got to chat with him - his gig was coding and rthen burning EPROMS for clients. Wait, there’s more…and yes it has to do with the plumbing (at least the depths of)… at the time (80’s) the chips he burned were used in oil well drill bits and controlled steering them for going all sideways. This was the sexy bleeding edge. I said WHAT? (no TF at the time) you run a wire to control the chip down a 6 inch steel pipe that gets another section screwed on every 20-30 feet?

    No he said, we send a slowwww analog signal down through the mud - MudPulseTechnolgy. And he also said Sadam really went after Kuwait after K went sideways into Iraq’s oil pools. True fable.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OMG

    Yorkshire, why is it always Yorkshire?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: OMG

      Because they have the best Tea. And you know how much Tea is consumed at the sharp end of British infrastructure jobs, especially if it involves digging trenches. And in this specific project, there'll be no shortage of water for the kettle while the job is ongoing. I suspect we can expect this job to to take quite some time!

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