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BT and Toshiba to build quantum-secured network in London

Quantum computing
(Image credit: Pixabay)

BT and Toshiba will stage the world’s first commercial trial of quantum-secure  network infrastructure in London, connecting sites in Docklands, the City, and along the M4 corridor.

The two companies have partnered for multiple tests of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology, which hopes to address the challenge that traditional security systems face from the rapidly-developing area of quantum computing.

Whereas classical computing architectures store information in binary (1 or 0) bits, Quantum computing uses subatomic particles’ ability to exist in multiple states at the same time. This means Quantum computers can store significantly more information and compute issues much more quickly.

Instead, data was stored and transported on physical storage – a much more inefficient, time-consuming, and inherently insecure method than what quantum networking promises.

Quantum networking

Quantum Key Distribution

Quantum computing has huge implications for the financial, military and healthcare sectors among others as it can expediate research projects. And while some have concerns that this increase in computing power could render most encryption measures obsolete, it also opens the door for even more powerful security measures through quantum cryptography.

QKD is a supposedly ‘unhackable’ technique for sharing encryption keys between locations using a single stream of photons. Multiplexing compatibility allows both data and keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, essentially doubling network capacity, and allows for the distribution of 1000s keys per second.

BT and Toshiba say QKD and other quantum techniques will become increasingly important to combating the threat of quantum-based cyberattacks, which could be used to break traditional encryption methods as early as five years’ time – and certainly within a decade.

This latest trial builds on the findings of a recent pilot in Bristol, but this is a more complex infrastructure because of the multiple endpoints. It is hoped that the network will be the first step in the creation of a national quantum-secured data infrastructure.

“BT and Toshiba have established a global lead in the development of quantum-secure networks. We’re excited to be taking this collaboration to the next level by building the world’s first commercially operational quantum-secured metro network in London,” declared Howard Watson, BTCIO.

“Secure, robust and trusted data transfer is increasingly crucial to our customers across the globe, so we’re proud of the role our Quantum R&D programme is playing in making the world’s networks safer as we enter the dawn of a new age of quantum computing.”

Capital idea

London was chosen because customers in the city, such as those in the financial and legal sectors, traditionally deal with highly sensitive data and require a high level of security. The initial focus will be on carrying sensitive traffic, such as database backups, between different sites and to explore potential future use cases such as encrypted links and “quantum keys-as-a-service”

BT will offer a range of quantum-secured services, including high bandwidth encrypted links, and Toshiba will provide QKD hardware and key management software. It claims to have the highest key rates and longest range of any commercially available fibre system.

Another advantage of Toshiba’s system is its multiplexing capabilities which allows data and quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre – eliminating the need for dedicated infrastructure and reducing cost.

“Our partnership with BT will allow us to offer organisations quantum-secured network services which protect their data from retrospective attacks with a quantum computer,” added Taro Shimada, chief digital officer We are delighted to work with BT, with its long heritage of delivering secure, trusted networks. This network paves the way for commercial QKD services in the UK and eventually beyond.”

The UK government has expressed a desire to be at the forefront of the field, believing it can play a vital role in the connected economy and accelerate Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) deployments. A National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) is expected to open in 2022 as part of the £1 billion National Quantum Technologies Programme.

BT itself has constructed a commercial-grade test network link that spans 125km between its Adastral Park R&D facility in Suffolk and the University of Cambridge and links to the wider UK Quantum Network (UKQN) – a collaboration between industry and academia.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.