back to article Dark Fibre: Reg man plunges into London's sewers to see how pipe is laid

We’ve all seen it and we’ve all cursed it. Whether you’re stuck in traffic or grimacing over the noise, digging up the roads to enhance or extend our communications pipelines is disruptive and causes frustrating transport delays. In oh so many ways, infrastructure in the UK is going down the toilet and for the likes of dark …

  1. Rob
    Coffee/keyboard

    Too early

    I probably should have saved that one to read this afternoon, my stomach feels like is could contribute something else for the Zayo folk to walk through now.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Too early

      Once you have cleaned your cellar a couple of times of mucky backflow from the public sewer pipes due to some heavy rain considered unlikely 20 years ago, this won't faze you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too early

        Or had to deal with marine toilets and what in the trade is called a "Marigold incident". After the last one I put in a vacuum system, because cleaning out compacted shit pumps is never going to be a fun job.

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Too early

          Congrats guys. First article in awhile I won't read past the first comment thread. Usually it is an hour reserved for El Reg climate "science" articles.

          1. asdf Silver badge

            Re: Too early

            honor not hour, stupid 10 min only edit period.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That's interduct

    ...or whatever they call it over there. I'm pretty sure that they largest cable you can pull through one of those is probably an 864-fiber cable. I remember when the Bell Labs folks came up with that one, all of the applications and databases had to be updated to handle it. Of course, as soon as it had been released, another group in the Labs came up with a novel optical multiplexor design...negating most of the market for the very-high-count cables.

  3. Rupert Fiennes Bronze badge

    Fascinating

    I did the tour with Geo last year: it's a interesting thing to do, and the state of our 150 year old sewers is really remarkably good :-)

    Couple of points you might want to add: I asked about most common failure modes, and they told me that "ragging" where rubbish catches on the conduits and then the flow pulls them off the wall can be an issue (but a small one, overall). Secondly, they also made the point that they run the fibers down secondary sewers as much as possible as getting permission to block off the main ones to install or maintain takes an awful long time!

  4. Cuddles Silver badge

    Security?

    "this communications infrastructure is out of sight and out of range from the potential disruption of some utility service severing a vital communications link with some misdirected digging. Needless to say, Zayo plays on this as a boon to security."

    Surely it's the exact opposite. Regular cables are highly secure because no-one can get at them without digging up the road in a fairly noticeable fashion. Putting them in a sewer means anyone can hop down the nearest drain and have their way with them without anyone ever knowing about it. You trade the convenience of avoiding accidental interruptions with a somewhat greater vulnerability to deliberate ones. Although given that attacks are far more likely to happen at exchanges, the whole security angle is fairly silly anyway; it doesn't matter where you put your cable, it's the ends that people are interested in and they're going to be in the same place.

    1. Riku

      Re: Security?

      Maybe. The smell alone and the possibility of (literally) drowning in shit would be a pretty strong deterrent for all but the most dedicated crims perhaps.

      1. YetAnotherLocksmith

        Re: Security?

        Agreed - that and the poison gas! I'd target the exchange way before the cable.

    2. Javapapa

      Re: Security?

      Have a friend who was a Forward Air Controller during Gulf War I. His mission was to navigate the Baghdad sewer system, push open a manhole cover (at night), aim a laser at a government building for the smartbomb to home in on.

      Watch the movie "The Third Man" for a tour of the Vienna sewer system.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Security?

        Don't give the terrorists any ideas!

        Also: How to cut off Tokyo in Patlabor 2 (disregard the lousy dub made by voice actors too young for the role)

        1. OzBob

          Re: Security?

          Would terrorists go down there with the risk of exposure to and infection by pork products?

    3. Bob H

      Re: Security?

      I used to work for a company that leased hundreds of fibres around London and so I regularly saw the maps. I realised that outside the KFC where I lived was a series of green cabinets which if someone had a truck/JCB it would do some serious damage.

      Fortunately sensible companies traversing London tend to order dual, diverse routes with diverse points of entry, so there is no single point of failure. However if someone knew what they were doing they could do massive damage, luckily none of the advanced knowledge is public but if someone were determined they could try some espionage to get that information.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Also available to consumers since April 1st, 2011

    http://www.google.co.uk/tisp/install.html

  6. Cliff

    Shitnet

    That is all.

    1. GitMeMyShootinIrons

      Re: Shitnet

      Logging on?

  7. Evil Graham

    Gives new meaning...

    ... to the phrase "laying a cable".

    1. Adolph Clickbait

      Re: Gives new meaning...

      Too much fibre...

      1. John Tserkezis

        Re: Gives new meaning...

        Or performing a download.

        1. ravenviz
          Windows

          Re: Gives new meaning...

          I wonder if they found any dead otters or Meatloaf's daughter?

  8. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Wouldn't be necessary

    If Openreach was cleaved off from BT and operated as a completely separate company without BT calling the tune.

    That's what's happened in New Zealand. The result has been that the lines company is no longer "encumbered" by rules saying "don't sell to the competition" and is actively seeking out LLU customers as well as renting out dark fibre and duct space.

    As long as BT owns Openreach, it can (and does) use it as an anticompetitive tool. Openreach may be forced to sell to everyone on an equal basis, but it's not going to lease duct space, sell dark fibre or make itself particularly easy to deal with or get access to - and all those rules come down from head office.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wouldn't be necessary

      " Wouldn't be necessary ... if Openreach was cleaved off from BT and operated as a completely separate company without BT calling the tune."

      You seem to be arguing for a monopoly in last mile access - is that your intention? When I buy high reliability services I deliberately choose multiple suppliers using different last mile topologies, so I think this kind of thing will always be necessary.

      "As long as BT owns Openreach, it can (and does) use it as an anticompetitive tool. Openreach may be forced to sell to everyone on an equal basis, but it's not going to lease duct space,"

      It does lease duct space and pole space.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/04/27/sky_bt_ducts_poles_trial/

      Once I start installing fibres and kit I need a skilled field force, I need spares, I need a support contract on that kit. If I just lease something from BT or Colt or KCOM or C&W or Verizon or whoever all I need is their phone number to ring when it goes pop. I lease services for my customers because it's financially and operationally easier, not because Openreach won't let me in their ducts.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Wouldn't be necessary

        "You seem to be arguing for a monopoly in last mile access - is that your intention? "

        Not at all. However reality _IS_ that BT is a monopoly in most areas and is able to leverage that quite nicely (6-figure installation fees for 1Gb/s fibre where I am, vs a lot cheaper where there are competitors)

        At some point it's cheaper for Virgin and friends to dig their own trenches (high density areas) but in the vast majority of the land it's just not economically viable.

        The problem with a lines company which is part of an overarching monolith is that they do things which don't make economic sense if they were truly independent.

        New Zealand analysed what had happened in the UK with the "split off" of Openreach (Telecom New Zealand did voluntarily split its lines operations off in order to stave off govt intervention), but it was realised that the combined structure was still able to be used as an effective anticompetitive tool - and after 20 years of monopoly abuse by Telecom New Zealand the govt wasn't in a mood to allow it to continue as "monopoly abuse lite"

  9. Little Mouse

    IP67

    I'm not sure that Mrs Mouse would approve of internet cables entering our house through the downstairs toilet.

    On the plus-side though it's a good excuse for leaving the seat up.

    1. TitterYeNot

      Re: IP67

      "I'm not sure that Mrs Mouse would approve of internet cables entering our house through the downstairs toilet."

      If the plonkers in charge Cameron & May get their way, once they've done rifling through our emails and browsing history, they'll be poking internet cables out of the toilet just to make sure we're not hiding subversive materials up our arses...

      1. billse10

        Re: IP67

        "If the plonkers in charge Cameron & May get their way, "

        oh, it's not just them. Look at their immediate predecessors, who had a view of civil liberties that gave us all the right to be arrested for taking a photograph of a police officer, and so on ...

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: IP67

      Just stay away from the toilet when the OP guys tell you they're going to rod & rope the duct. You'll be fine. And pay close attention to gas seals between their chambers and yours!

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bazalgette doesn't get enough recognition; even if the original estimates had been used, a one-hundred plus year lifetime for something is an achievement. I look forward to taking odds on great- grandchildren able to use a Windows 8 machine to sync their iToys

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
  11. WibbleMe

    Done anyone remember this April Fools day prank from Google?

    http://www.google.com/tisp/install.html

  12. macjules Silver badge
    Happy

    More MSFT marketing?

    Please, tell me this wasn't an advert for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program ...

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: More MSFT marketing?

      Did you actually read the article then?

  13. Dylan Byford

    Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

    I've always thought that you could drop a load of fibre pretty easily into the bottom of the UK canal network. This could connect some of the big regional cities very easily. Seems British Waterways has put it under the towpath in some parts of the system, but that seems a lot of effort. You could simply unroll it from a boat and let it sink into the mud, couldn't you? The total weight is going to mitigate against theft and the like. You'd have to dig it into the towpath around locks of course.

    1. Darren Sandford

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      It's fine until you need to dredge the canal.

    2. Mr Anonymous

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      There's already fiber down the tow path. Fiberway > Easynet > Sky.

    3. Nicko
      Holmes

      No sh*t Sherlock!

      Happened long ago - when the London Hydraulic Power Company shut up shop in 1977, its had over 180 miles of iron piping under the centre of London...

      Mercury Communications, part of Cable and Wireless bought the assets, including the right (as a utility provider) to dig up London's streets. Nice bit of lateral thinking...

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Hydraulic_Power_Company

      All those pipes, all filled with fibre, and with little expense as only some "tails" into newer buildings had to be laid.

    4. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      Bin Done. A few places have installed cable in canal bottoms but it usually needs to be buried to protect against anchors. Which can sometimes cause issues, like an install in Paris that ploughed a bit too deep into the canal bed and it started leaking. But usual challenge is getting wayleaves, negotiating costs for wayleaves and then access to sites to do emergency repairs. So although this kind of thing can reduce install costs, sometimes it can make it tricky to get access to repair or maintain. Hence route diversity is important for anything safety or mission critical.

    5. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      That's fine for running fibre between cities. There is already quite a bit of that. This is for more local connections.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      "I've always thought that you could drop a load of fibre pretty easily into the bottom of the UK canal network. This could connect some of the big regional cities very easily. Seems British Waterways has put it under the towpath in some parts of the system"

      Look up Fibreway, which if I remember rightly started life in the 1990s as a jolnt venture (?) between British Waterways and GEC (more accurately, GPT). Later, Easynet got involved. Af a later stage the company was called Ipsaris. They were leasing dark fibre, the company in this article certainly weren't the first to do so in the UK.

      1994: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/fibreway-opens-new-trade-on-canals-1428006.html

      2000: http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-1570667/Marconi-ponders-fibre-float.html

      2001: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/06/27/easynet_in_broadband_marriage/

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

      There's vast amounts of fibre from dozens of companies linking cities in the UK. It runs downs the side of railway lines, through disused gas trunks, along HV power routes, along the walls of the tube - there's absolutely no problem with getting your mitts on a fibre from one city to another.

      The difficult bit is the last mile - getting from the site where the main link terminates out to a customer building. In a big city you've probably got a handful of suppliers with their own networks to choose from (BT, COLT, C&W, KC...) but outside of those places your choice is dig yourself or use BT. Even if one of those suppliers is available I'm going to be paying tens of thousands for the install, this stuff isn't priced for domestic use.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Other pre-existing infrastructure that could be used ...

        "The difficult bit is the last mile [...] this stuff isn't priced for domestic use."

        The nice people at FibreCity used to claim their (allegedly) drain-based product was priced for domestic use, but then they collapsed in mysterious circumstances part way through a couple of rollouts. Turns out that their idea of "last mile" wasn't using the drains but was using microtrenching (just like Virgin use).

        Then a little while later many of the FibreCity bigwigs re-emerged at a company called CityFibre, who reportedly have some kind of BT-independent last-mile deal with Sky and TalkTalk in York, and more recently it was reported they agreed a cellular backhaul deal with Three and EE.

        There's presumably still the small matter of a Serious Fraud Office investigation to sort out at some stage. It's only been three years so it's early days yet.

        http://www.theregister.co.uk/Print/2014/11/13/cityfibre_dark_fibre_deal_with_ee_and_three/

        http://www.zdnet.com/article/cityfibre-bournemouth-ftth-scheme-back-on-track/

  14. Squeezer

    Currently the standard for 100G/lambda systems is 88 wavelengths (8.8Tb/s) down one fibre with 50GHz spacing; if you filled 864 fibres that would give you 7.6Pb/s down one cable, which apart from being rather high would cost around $50M just for the transceivers...

    For shorter reaches we can now squeeze 200Gb/s down 37.5GHz spacing channels which means 23.5Tb/s per fibre or 20Pb/s per cable, which no amount of cat videos can use up ;-)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "20Pb/s per cable, which no amount of cat videos can use up ;-)"

      Yet! 4k cat video uploads starting.....now!

  15. Chris G Silver badge

    Lucky

    They weren't down there during the flush hour, the tide mark in one of the pics is about 5 feet up the wall.

    Definitely a need for bigger wellies.

  16. paulf Silver badge
    Coat

    Farting - I see what you did there

    "Brackley explains that he’ll be monitoring the air quality and that there should be no farting about if he says to put the mask on."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Farting - I see what you did there

      But can one light a match?

      H2S attacks are nasty.

  17. auburnman

    I was about to ask what a fatberg was; then I worked it out and immediately wished I hadn't.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Pint

      In strange aeons, fatbergs will rise!

      Directly from Jimbo's Floatsam Bucket of Retconnable Knowledge:

      ▶ August 6, 2013: A fatberg roughly the size of a bus, consisting of food fat and wet wipes, was discovered in drains under London Road in Kingston upon Thames.

      ▶ September 1, 2014: A collection of waste fat, wet wipes, food, tennis balls and wood planks the size of a Boeing 747 aeroplane was discovered and cleared by sanitation workers within a drain beneath a 260 foot section of road in Shepherd's Bush in West London.

      ▶ September 3, 2014: The sewerage system beneath Melbourne, Australia was clogged by a large mass of fat, grease and waste.

      There is clearly a large market for autonomous robotics still to be opened.

      Also, new El Reg units will be in the works. Soon.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In strange aeons, fatbergs will rise!

        The Anglian Water company recently made an appeal for people not to use toilets to dispose of anything other than body waste and toilet paper. They had a picture of some of the items they caught in their filters. Common items were false teeth and mobile phones - see the pictures in the link.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-suffolk-30438262

        Another company detailed some of the things that had blocked their sewers. There were fatbergs - and also a large stuffed Pooh Bear.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Did your man in Londons Waterways...

    ...perchance to happen on a team from GCHQ splicing their way through the Capital?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    There are many days

    when it has been a rough day in the office that the sewers sound like a much better place to work - at least there is much sh*t being thrown around then in the office

  20. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

    future proofing

    Least they don't have to worry about a buffer overflow down

    there.

    Mines the one with the curious smell...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It made me wonder...

    how much of the information flowing through the fibres is filthier than the sewers they run through? You can stream a lot of UHD porn through that much fibre.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: It made me wonder...

      It depends on how near you reckon yourself to be to your preferred abrahamic/nofunallowed $DEITY.

    2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

      Re: It made me wonder...

      With the recent porn laws, I wouldn't think so...

  22. Jes.e

    I feel the need

    ..to pull Neverwhere out for a rewatch for some reason..

    1. jjk

      Re: I feel the need

      ...or reread _Rattus Rex_.

  23. Nash

    Lets hope it....

    ...isn't affected by Brown-out's

  24. Harry M. Kachline

    Alternatives?

    Could just read Neverwhere, save the deodorant costs.

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