BT to stage 'world-first' test of 5G quantum security

Quantum computing
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BT is joining forces with several UK startups to stage the world’s first trial of end-to-end quantum-secured communications for 5G and connected cars.

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.

5G quantum security

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.

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a supposedly ‘unhackable’ technique for sharing encryption keys between locations using a single stream of photons.

This ‘AIRQKD’ trial combines BT’s expertise in QKD with other quantum-enhanced security chips in mobile devices to create an ultra-secure link between 5G cell sites and mobile devices and connected cars. Other partners in the trial include Nu-Quantum, Angoka, and Duality

Testing will take place over the next 36 months with £7.7 million in funding provided by the Quantum Technologies Challenge, led by UK Research and Innovation and it is hoped the project will strengthen the UK’s ambitions of being a leader in the field.

“The UK has firmly established itself as a global leader in quantum-based network security,” declared Professor Andrew Lord, BT’s head of optical network research. “With the AIRQKD trial, we’re delighted to be taking this to the next level and combining multiple quantum technologies from innovative UK start-ups to build the world’s most secure fixed-mobile communications link. Connected cars are only one of the possible range of applications that will benefit from such ultra-secure connectivity in the future.”

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.