Teams of people are working across the wider Whanganui region to lay down the pink pipes that will carry tomorrow's data - and make autonomous vehicles possible.

Called Project Westwind, Spark is replacing fibre optic cable from New Plymouth to Palmerston North. The distance is 286km, the cost is $20 million.

The project started on January 15, and should be finished by Christmas, Spark project manager Ian Finlay said.

It's one of the first in which Spark combines with other businesses, even competitors, to finance the rollout. It makes economic sense and also saves the same roadsides being dug up over and over again.

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In this case Spark is sharing the cost with Powerco and Transpower.

Spark already had fibre optic cable running between the three towns. But it was 20-30 years old, some of it was buried direct rather than in a pipe, and it needed to be upgraded.

The new cable will be inside a high grade polyethylene pipe, with space for more cables to be added alongside it. The businesses will buy or lease space in the pipe.

The new pipes are pink, the colour Spark has chosen for all its new infrastructure.

It will be especially helpful in one to five years, when 5G broadband becomes available - the type needed to run autonomous vehicles.

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Spark has contracted the work to utility construction company Connect 8, which in turn has other subcontractors. At the moment at least 70 people are working on the project, in small teams, across the region.

The pipe is laid underground by directional drilling, or mole ploughing in places with enough flat ground.

It is part of Spark's national fibre network, which runs mainly between towns and electricity substations and is the "backbone" for other high-speed data services.

It is a completely separate system from the ultrafast broadband provided to households.

It will be especially helpful in one to five years, when 5G broadband becomes available - the type needed to run autonomous vehicles.

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