BT and Toshiba use Quantum Cryptography to create 'unhackable' network

Quantum computing
(Image credit: Pixabay)

BT and Toshiba are celebrating the UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum secure network in Bristol.

The 6km network uses standard Openreach fibre to connect sites belonging to the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS) across the city.

The project was chosen because of the sensitive nature of the data sent between the two organisations. Both have interests in the aerospace, energy, and automotive industries and deemed standard networking and security technologies to be insufficiently secure. Instead, data was stored and transported on physical storage – a much more inefficient, time-consuming, and inherently insecure method than what quantum networking promises.

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

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.

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.

This network in Bristol is protected by Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), 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 the new network demonstrates a tangible benefit to industry and the viability of QKD to transmit sensitive data across fibre.

“This first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network in the UK is a significant milestone as we move towards a quantum-ready economy,” declared Professor Andrew Lord, head of optical technology at BT.

“The power of quantum computing offers unprecedented opportunity for UK industry, but this is an essential first step to ensure its power can be harnessed in the right way and without compromising security.”

“Our solution can be implemented on standard BT fibre infrastructure and is applicable to a wide range of different applications, allowing organisations to ensure the long-term security of their data and protect it from even the most powerful computers,” added Dr. Andrew Shields, head of quantum technology at Toshiba Europe.

“With the UK government’s assertion earlier this month that it wants to be the ‘world’s first quantum-ready economy’, quantum-secure networks are vital to it achieving this ambition, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of making this a reality.”

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.