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Industry group launched to develop standards for fibre deployment in sewer network

Water utilities companies are working with SSE Enterprise Telecoms to deploy fibre in the sewers, as well as transform the sewage system into a “smart wastewater network”

UK connectivity provider SSE Enterprise Telecoms is working with major water utility companies to develop a common set of standards for how to install fibre optic cables in the sewers with minimal disruption.

To develop these standards, SSE has launched an independently chaired Technical User Group (TUG) that has brought together five UK water companies, including Scottish Water Horizons.

“To advance the UK’s digital ambitions and drive forward the smart cities of the future, we are rolling out a number of large infrastructure projects to improve nationwide connectivity,” said Paul Clark, senior director for energy and utilities at SSE.

“We understand that it’s a critical requirement to keep disruption to a minimum when working on such projects, so we are maximising the use of existing assets including the sewer network to lay fibre.”

At the moment, there are no agreed-upon standards for how to deploy fibre in sewers in a way that minimises disruption to sewer infrastructure, water company customers and the general public.

The TUG is part of SSE’s Fibre in the Sewers programme, which uses existing infrastructure to run fibre through dense metropolitan areas to improve connectivity in a way that avoids costly and disruptive dig sites.

The collaboration will also help the water utility firms deploy sewage network monitoring technology, which will provide real-time data on wastewater flows and enable the companies to reduce the potential of flooding and pollution by identifying problems early on.

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“Although fibre in the sewers is no new concept, the TUG was established to bring key stakeholders from across the industry together to agree on consistent standards for this process, and share knowledge,” said Wayne Earp, chair of the TUG and consultant at WFE Consulting.

“This will make laying fibre quicker, while also enabling the deployment of cutting-edge network monitoring technology, helping to reduce wastage, flooding and driving forward a better customer experience.”

The TUG will regularly convene to allow the utility companies to exchange technical information, with the purpose of using their shared knowledge to create specifications and codes of practice relating to the deployment of fibre optic cables within sewer pipes.

The idea is that these standards, as well as SSE’s new infrastructure, will help mobile network operators to deploy 5G services more quickly and efficiently, as well as at a potentially lower cost.

“Scottish Water has 32,000 miles of wastewater pipes throughout Scotland,” said Paul Kerr, managing director of Scottish Water Horizons. “It makes perfect sense to utilise this vast infrastructure to help enable telecommunications, reduce disruption to our customers and the environment, and support smart networks to provide real-time monitoring.”

“By using the existing sewer network, we can support SSE Enterprise Telecoms in their development of a set of standard specifications to support the deployment of fibre in the sewer network, while ensuring that the Scottish Water network is protected.”

SSE already signed an “operating licence to deploy” agreement with Thames Water in November 2017, which allowed the company to distribute fibre optic cables throughout Thames Water’s waste network.

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