Infrastructure of telecoms networks v. infrastructure of sewer network

Date: 04/07/23 | In: News

One of the best ways to illustrate the differences between the infrastructure of the telecoms network here in the UK compared with the infrastructure of the sewer network is via a simple timeline:

1875Sir Joseph Bazalgette, in response to the Great Stink of 1858, created a sewerage system for central London. This was the beginning of the creation of the UK’s sewer network which today consists of around 347,000 kilometres of sewers that collect over 11 billion litres of wastewater.

1901 Guglielmo Marconi created a practical radio wave-based wireless telegraph system which led to him being credited as the inventor of the radio and gained him a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909 with Karl Ferdinand Braun.

Late 1970s – First sewer flow monitors developed and installed. These monitors used an ultrasonic Doppler sensor and were a low-cost survey instrument used by sewer hydraulic modellers.

March 1989 – British computer scientist, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invents an information management system known as the World Wide Web. He then went on to implement the first successful communication between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and a server via the internet a few months later.

1991 – 2G network launched and still in operation today for calls and texts.

Circa 1997 – First remote comms using GSM/SMS from sewer equipment via 2G

October 2012 – EE launched its Long-Term Evolution (LTE) services, followed by O2 and Vodafone in August 2013.

2023 – 3G sunset commences with Vodafone the first to sunset its 3G service in June.

2033 – All operators have agreed that 2G will be ‘sunsetted’

Bazalgette’s Victorian sewers remain virtually unchanged to the present day but, as we strive to communicate ever faster and more efficiently, there are advancements in telecommunications almost daily. That’s great for doing business, staying in touch with friends or doing your online banking. However, the fact that our sewer network has not been expanded or improved for over 150 years is something of an ongoing headache for water companies.

Back in 1875 the UK population stood at 32 million. Today it’s a little over 67 million. The sewer network must cope with more than double the number of people it was originally designed to serve. And it doesn’t cope well, particularly when there is a heavy rainfall event, or a fatberg develops and causes a blockage. The knock-on effects are often devastating for humans and wildlife alike, with pollutions and spills affecting rivers and coastal waters.

The sewer network requires immediate upgrade, and in many areas a complete replacement – however it would be far too expensive – so we must work with what we have and that’s where the telecoms network comes in. It is this ever-developing network that enables us to provide smart network monitoring and predict what will happen in the network so preventative measures can be taken before there is an issue. That’s the strategy anyway!

Whilst the telecoms network is now far more advanced than the sewer network, there are still limitations and challenges. Signal strength and network coverage, for example, depend on physicalities and we control none of them. Telecoms providers do facilitate path profile analysis and complete lots of modelling, but this is all done above ground and as such it’s not very relevant. Smart network monitoring is, of course, all done below ground. And when you learn that there is generally a 10dB difference and 50% less signal power/strength versus above ground, it’s easy to see why monitoring is a highly technical and complex brief to achieve.

Working in this challenging environment is what Detectronic is best at. So, whilst we can’t conjure up a more expansive sewer network, we can devise effective solutions based on an intrinsic understanding of how the wastewater network performs AND make the most of what is currently available from telecoms providers to help water companies exceed targets.

Our expertise in exploiting lower end frequencies to get the best out of the existing telecoms network is one of the reasons why our smart network monitoring is so successful. We use the very latest developments in technology to seek out LTE/NB-IoT coverage and employ built tetra networks in areas with poor signal. At the same time, our monitors and sensors will always fall back to the strongest 2G network in the monitoring area to facilitate the best data transmission. The evolution of smart devices to keep searching for the strongest signal rather than stick with the first network it connects to has facilitated further improvement in our data capture and transmission in wastewater network monitoring.

Ideally, we’d like to see providers offer more LTE frequencies, particularly in the 800MHz band since they’re the most adept at travelling over long distances and passing through physical objects. This is often discussed in the industry, but we still have no tangible release dates. Until additional lower frequencies are released, we can add in the Neptune™ antenna to further improve transmission and optimise the most efficient underground radio propagation.

Our unique combination of product development, on-site expertise, and technical knowledge, as well as collaborative working with our peers, is already delivering outstanding results for our clients. Are you one of them?

For more about smart network monitoring, please contact the Detectronic team on 01282 449124 or email: