BT tests quantum radio receivers that could boost 5G coverage

Quantum Computer
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Costex)

BT and Toshiba have built the world’s first commercial quantum-secured metro network over standard fibre cables for EY, securely transmitting the consultancy's data between sites in London Bridge and Canary Wharf.

The partners say the network is a major step forward for the commercialization of the technology and for the UK government’s ambition to be a ‘quantum-enabled’ economy.

BT will operate the network using the Openreach fibre network and provide a range of quantum-secured services, while Toshiba will provide hardware and key management software. EY will use the infrastructure to protect its own data and demonstrate the utility of the technology to its customers.

“Quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operates in the future, but they are remarkably complex to understand, develop and build: in particular, ensuring that the end-to-end service designs meet the stringent security requirements of the market,” said Howard Watson, BT CTO.

“I’m incredibly proud that BT and Toshiba have successfully united to deliver this unique network, and with EY as our first trial customer, we are paving the way for further commercial explorations for quantum technologies and their use in commercial, and societal applications in the future.”

Commercial network

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technology 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 the ability of subatomic particles to exist in multiple states at the same time. This means quantum computers can store significantly more information and compute issues much more quickly.

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.

“Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but presents potential risks,” said Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Managing Partner for Technology, Media and Telecoms (TMT). “Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy. Our work with two of the world’s leading technology innovators will allow us to demonstrate the power of quantum to both EY and our clients.”

Quantum ambition

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.

However BT says more work is needed if this ambition is to be achieved.

“This is a significant moment in the UK’s journey towards a quantum-enabled economy, but we’re not there yet,” added Watson. “Further investment commitments will be required to broaden the study of quantum technologies that will contribute to this new economy, including quantum computing, quantum cryptography and quantum communications. 

"We look forward to working with our government and industry partners to continue the momentum BT has started and shaping the UK’s quantum strategy.”

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.