You might soon get your superfast broadband via a water pipe

Optical fiber
(Image credit: Pixabay)

The UK government is trialling a new way of connecting hard-to-reach rural areas to gigabit broadband networks by running fibre optic cables through water mains pipes.

The three-year trial project will look to test out ways of getting remote regions of the country up to speed with fibre broadband without the need to dig up roads or disrupt infrastructure in areas where connections are poor.

The government is offering £4m to companies looking to test out the idea, with the hope that successful bidders can begin work this winter, and have it completed by March 2024.

UK broadband rollout

All cable-based suggestions will be tested by the UK's Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) before being placed into water mains, to ensure that safety is maintained.

In its proposal, the government notes that civil works such as installing new ducts and poles, can make up as much as four-fifths of the costs to industry of building new gigabit-capable broadband networks.

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

"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."

If successful, there are further proposals to grant broadband firms access to more than a million kilometres of underground utility ducts - including electricity, gas and sewer networks - to further boost the rollout of next-generation broadband. 

The launch forms part of Project Gigabit, the UK government's push to "level up" rural areas by giving them the fastest internet speeds on the market.

Project Gigabit kicked into action in March 2021, providing vital upgrades to several regions across the UK.

As well as boosting gigabit broadband connections, it is hoped that the project can test solutions to try and reduce the amount of water lost every day due to leaks in the nation's pipes - which is around 20% of the total put into the public supply.

The UK's water companies have committed to delivering a 50% reduction in leakage, and this project will see connected sensors placed into the pipes to quickly identify a leak and alert the necessary provider.

Mike Moore
Deputy Editor, TechRadar Pro

Mike Moore is Deputy Editor at TechRadar Pro. He has worked as a B2B and B2C tech journalist for nearly a decade, including at one of the UK's leading national newspapers and fellow Future title ITProPortal, and when he's not keeping track of all the latest enterprise and workplace trends, can most likely be found watching, following or taking part in some kind of sport.