Bournemouth sewer-based broadband contract cancelled

By Dave Bailey
13 Aug 2010 View Comments
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Bournemouth seafront
Wessex Water cites technical reasons and commercial reward for sewer-based FTTH project

A project to deliver optical fibre-based broadband connections through the sewers in the south coast town of Bournemouth has been cancelled.

Network supplier i3 Group was hoping to deliver the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service for Bournemouth residents through sewer systems owned by Wessex Water.

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Although a pilot project was completed, the Bath-based water company has shelved plans to roll out the service but it is not clear why. When asked by Computing for clarification, Wessex Water released the following statement: "There are issues concerning commercial confidentiality between Wessex Water and i3, therefore we are not prepared to comment at this stage."

This is despite an earlier statement issued to ZDNet UK and attributed to Wessex Water spokesman Ian Drury: "The reason the project in Bournemouth didn't move forward was because there were contractual problems. The technology methodology didn't work for us, nor did the reward for placing the cables in the sewers.”

Similarly, i3 Group has released a statement about the project breakdown from its chief executive Elfed Thomas, which said: "Wessex Water is being short-sighted in putting commercial demands above the opportunity to deliver superfast broadband to their own customers.”

I3 Group is proceeding with the project using other methodologies such as the traditional technique of digging up roads.

"All works being carried out in Bournemouth have been carried out with the consent of Bournemouth Borough Council, having gone through the necessary planning routes," said Thomas.

He added that other water authorities see the advantage that its patented system called FS, which allows fibre to run through sewers, enables: “It helps with management and repair of the sewer pipes, and generates revenue for the water company, as i3 Group pays to have access to the pipes.”

Scottish Water is working with i3 Group to enable a similar sewer-based FTTH project in Dundee, and has recently signed a non-exclusive framework agreement with i3 to expand operations across Scotland.

"The deployment model uses micro-trenching and other innovative techniques that enable minimal disruption to roads and the network while maximising the return on investment," said a spokesman for Scottish Water.

The project in Bournemouth was part of i3's Fibrecity next-generation network initiative, using Fibrecity's FS System for fibre deployment in the sewer network.

Using this existing duct means fibre can be laid up to 90 per cent faster, and with minimal disruption compared with the normal method of digging up roads.

The project cancellation illustrates the difficulties faced by Broadband Delivery UK, the organisation tasked by the current government with delivering a next-generation optical fibre-based broadband network to the majority of the UK.

At an industry day held last month at the headquarters of the Business, Innovation and Skills department in London, how best to liaise between private and public sector organisations and network suppliers was a topic high on the agenda.

Commercial reward for private sector utility firms was identified as a possible inhibitor to rolling out optical fibre broadband through water, sewer, electricity and gas infrastructures.

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