London’s Old Sewers Repurposed for Broadband Fiber

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Long established towns like London, England have found creative ways to adapt their old cities for new technology. Over the years, London has grown both up and down and the space has been repurposed to suit the changing needs of the populace. Disused tunnels that once channeled Victorian sewage have become conduits for fiber-optic cables bringing broadband to the city, reports ZDNET.com

“Previously you’d have had to close all the roads down and dig up the roads,” said Paul Clark, director for the utility sector at SSE Enterprise Telecoms. “In our 20km [12.4 miles], we had about 1km [0.6 miles] that required traditional digging and road closures – everything else was done within the sewers.” SSE has a network of fiber cable in London covering 131km, or 81.4 miles, in total.  

Clark pointed out that in addition to delivering 5G service throughout the city, the fiber network also allows telecoms to monitor activity within the tunnels and quickly spot and address problems. “The [fiber] is the monitoring device,” Clark explained. “If there is damage in the pipe, that will change the sound in that particular point in the network and that’s picked up by these devices so it helps pinpoint where the damage is.” 

“Once you’ve got the technology in there you don’t have to send people down in an environment that is really hostile, and with the smaller pipes you can’t send people in anyway, so there’s no way they can tell if the pipe is damaged,” Clark told ZDNET.com. 

Installation crews have encountered some unusual situations underground, from centuries old bodies to “Concreteburg,” a 105-ton concrete blockage created by accident. Of Concreteburg, Clark noted, “Without the sensing technology there could be a lot of this happening. If we’d had the sensing technology in there already it would have picked up that something was happening at the time it was happening.” 

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