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Residents of two Hertfordshire villages are to receive an ultrafast broadband service through disused water pipes in a pilot scheme conducted by rural fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) firm Gigaclear and water distribution company Affinity Water.
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The pilot will be conducted on out-of-use pipes in the villages of Furneux Pelham and Little Hormead, near Stevenage, and will aim to establish the overall feasibility of the concept, along with its potential scalability and any technical barriers to blowing fibre cables through the pipes.
Gigaclear’s head of design, Chris Harrison, said that on paper the idea of running fibre cables through unused water pipes made perfect sense, and, if the pilot project was successful, it would bring significant benefits to the firm’s rural customers.
Until now, like other network builders, Gigaclear has often been forced to hold up its builds while seeking permission from local authorities to dig up roads, although the growth in micro-trenching, which uses specialist equipment to cut a narrow channel up to 40cm deep in which cables can be laid much more quickly, has helped mitigated this.
“Because Gigaclear is building completely new broadband networks, putting our fibres through the disused pipes would mean we don’t have to dig new trenches to lay cables – minimising the disruption to the rural communities in which we work,” said Harrison.
“It would also speed up our build programme, particularly in areas where we would otherwise need to dig in or beside roads, as the permitting and traffic management planning process to enable this can be mean lengthy delays in the implementation of the network,” said Harrison.
Affinity Water distribution mains lead Tadas Buivydas said: “We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Gigaclear to help people who live in rural communities within our supply area get access to broadband services.”
Both firms are optimistic that disused pipes could be used to construct new networks faster and at lower cost. Gigaclear said that if the trial proved a success it would look to explore similar partnerships with other utility owners.
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