Why I believe our sewers are the obvious solution to rolling out 5G.

It is a little over two years since I made the move from the telecommunications industry to the wastewater industry. It has been an enlightening and fascinating time. One of the best things about moving into a different industry is the opportunity to take all the good ideas, practices and established ways of working and apply them to new and different situations.

This is probably why when I see articles discussing the challenges associated with getting the country 5G ready, I get a little perplexed. Is it not obvious? The answer runs beneath our feet, the answer is, of course, our sewer networks.

5G to most people is the answer to all their connection and buffering woes…..and it should be. It is the Fifth generation of digital mobile technology. Each generation continually builds upon, repurposes and improves the features and capabilities of the previous generation. So has been the process since the early 90’s. So why all the concern now?

5G is different.

One of the key differentiators is the higher frequencies. The higher frequency means 5G can send a lot (like a lot) more data, but as higher frequencies have shorter wavelengths an increase in the number of cell sites is required. To support the expected growth of IoT, faster and smart mobile devices and much heavier data loads, each of these new cell sites need to be connected by fibre.

In telecommunications, the common phrase for the final part of the connection is ‘the last mile’. This is fast going to change if we are going to get fibre to circa 400,000+ new cell sites. ‘The last metre’ will become the common turn of phrase.

In my mind, there are three options available to get this fibre in place. These are:

  1. Dig up the streets to install more duct and cause disruptions (the traditional way),
  2. Use and share existing infrastructure (competitive market, so not ideal),
  3. Use the sewers. Sewers are proven to be a more secure and safer environment.

Impact on our sewers.

The problem with using the sewers is that the wastewater industry already has a tough job managing an ageing asset against a backdrop of climate change, urbanisation and increasing population. Just using the sewer for fibre connectivity is not good enough. Anything other than the three P’s in the sewer network needs to be part of a wider solution.

That is why nuron was created. We have created a solution that provides benefits to both industries.

Water companies get a sewer nervous system which for the first time provides visibility for their whole network enabling the transformation to proactive and predictive management.

It also provides the fibre infrastructure for 5G and ‘last meter’ connectivity. There are 630,00km of sewer network in the UK, about 70% of these have a diameter of 600mm or less (non-man entry) of which nuron can robotically install. (We can also deploy in man entry – just saying).

I Love my job.

Over the last two years, I have learned that the water industry has a huge environmental and social conscience. I love that I get to be part of a solution that benefits them, whilst doing so much more in terms of building a smart resilient infrastructure for 5G and smart cities.