Telecommunications giant BT and Japanese conglomerate Toshiba have announced the trial launch of a “world first” commercial quantum-secured metro network. The infrastructure is designed to secure the transmission of valuable data and information over standard fibre optic links using quantum key distribution (QKD). EY has been named as the network’s first customer and will use it to connect two of its sites across London. The firms said that the network represents a critical step toward reaching the UK government’s aim of building a quantum-enabled economy in the UK within the next ten years.
Quantum-enabled technology is complex, security is key
The network, which was first pitched in October 2021, will be operated by BT, who will provide a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links delivered over Openreach’s private fibre networks, the firm said. Furthermore, Toshiba will provide QKD hardware and key management software combined with in-built Ethernet security based on public-key based encryption, which will enable the resultant keys to be used to encrypt data. The network will operate for an initial period of up to three years.
Commenting on the announcement, BT’s CTO Howard Watson said, “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.”
UK to become quantum-enabled economy within the next decade
In 2020, the UK government published its strategic intent to develop a quantum-enabled economy and set out a vision for the next ten years in which quantum technologies will become an integral part of the UK’s digital backbone. These will be used to unlock innovation, drive growth, build a thriving and resilient economy, and contribute significant value to the UK’s prosperity and security.
George Freeman, minister for science, research and innovation, HM Government, said, “I am very pleased to see the first trial by BT and Toshiba of a commercial quantum secured metro network, which represents significant progress towards achieving our ambition to make the UK a quantum-enabled economy. This is the kind of innovation that helps cement the UK as a global innovation economy in the vanguard of discovering, developing, and commercially adopting transformational technology with real societal benefits.”
Whilst recognising the significance of the trial launch, Watson added that further investments and commitments will be required to broaden the study of quantum technologies that will contribute to the UK’s future economy, including quantum computing, quantum cryptography, and quantum communications.