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U.K. firm pushes fiber through the sewers

Ignoring the smell, H2O Networks says laying fiber in the nation's sewer system is fast and cost-effective.

As the ground just below city streets becomes ever more jammed with cables of all types, it's becoming more difficult for network companies to find new pathways.

Now, H2O Networks of North Wales has come up with a cost-effective way of laying fiber through the nation's sewage system.

Using the sewers, organizations can set up their IT and telecommunications networks with virtually unlimited bandwidth. H2O's Focus (Fiber Optical Underground Sewer System) system "is a fast and cost-effective way to lay cable and link up any location without the high costs and disruption caused by traditional cabling methods," the company said last week.

There is great demand to find new ways to lay the vast amount of cable needed to satisfy the massive and continuing expansion of telecommunications networks and the Internet. Sewers offer ready-made channels for cable to follow, but there are some practical difficulties.

Sewers are built in such a way that the channel is clear enough to allow the effluent to flow freely, and cables must be laid so that they don't hamper this. The cables also need to be robust enough to be able to sit unattached in the sewer and remain resistant to ebbs and flows and the actions of the sewers' main residents, the rats.

H20 has solved the practical difficulties, according to managing director Elfed Thomas. "We have had to convince all the water companies that our system can be laid in the sewer without damaging the sewers or blocking them," he told ZDNet UK.

According to Thomas, the cabling system used by H2O is easy to install in the sewers, entirely resistant to rats and other sewer inhabitants and, at about $6.23 per meter, very cost-effective to lay.

The low cost makes the system "ideal as a bespoke solution for a separate secure network or for disaster recovery," said Thomas. But most important, according to Thomas, the network is available for a fixed cost rather a charge based on bandwidth.

"Between 7 and 15 percent of the cable will have to be laid using more conventional methods," said Thomas. The majority is just pulled through the sewer, which is where much of the savings come. Using the H2O method, a cable can be laid up to 80 percent faster than using traditional methods, the company said.

The company is attracting a lot of interest from all over, but especially from universities, Thomas said, although he was reluctant to name them. "The universities can see the benefit and we have four deploying it, but they don't want to say anything just yet," said Thomas. "They want to make a bit of a splash about it."

H20 has three solutions: Darc provides a low-cost rental of fiber cores and offers flexible terms and unlimited capacity; Darc Reserve is for organizations that have existing networks but need to call upon extra capacity from time to time or in case of a disaster; and Xtreme is designed specifically for disaster recovery--the high-security cable can be connected to buildings ready for use in an emergency.

Colin Barker of ZDNet UK reported from London.