BT to trial and develop 5G quantum security

By Joanna England
The UK’s leading telecommunications and network provider has joined forces with UK tech startups to research 5G network security...

British telecoms giant, BT is collaborating with leading research and technology organisations and as part of a world-first trial on quantum-secured communications for 5G and connected cars.

The resulting innovations are expected to drive forward the developments in quantum computing. Classical computing architectures save information in binary, but quantum computing uses subatomic particles’ ability to exist in multiple states at the same time. Therefore, quantum computers can store considerably more data and process issues much more quickly.

The AIRQKD trial will use BT’s expertise in constructing quantum-secure networks using QKD (Quantum Key Distribution – an “unhackable” technique for sharing encryption ‘keys’ between locations using a stream of single photons) with other new techniques for applying quantum security to mobile devices, developed by UK start-ups Nu Quantum, Angoka and Duality.

Other partners include Belfast-based Angoka, Bristol’s Duality Quantum Photonics and Arqit.

The 36-month-long trial will cost £7.7mn, with funding allocated by the Quantum Technologies Challenge, led by UK Research and Innovation. The initiative will create a world-first by combining Quantum Key Distribution over fixed fibre and free-space networks (point-to-point laser connections between cell sites), with quantum-enhanced security chips in mobile devices.

When combined, these technologies will be used to deliver an ultra-secure link between connected 5G towers and mobile devices, as well as to connected cars.

Dr Carmen Palacios Berraquero, co-founder and CEO of Nu Quantum believes the trial will produce ground-breaking results. She said, “We are basically creating the architecture for a whole new quantum-telecommunication industry, with a supply chain running from component manufacture through to end user. We have the unique ability to use the smallest packets of light, making the most of quantum mechanics and the security advantage it can give us. This three-year partnership with BT and others across the UK is an important step taking quantum out of the lab and into our networks.”

Secure 5G

BT’s current fibre-based testbed for QKD runs between Cambridge and the BT Labs at Adastral Park, Suffolk. The trial will pave the way for the development of a wide range of quantum-secured use-cases, for applications where ultra-security of data transfer is especially important.

Cambridge-based Nu Quantum, one of the UK’s newest quantum technology start-ups, will be the provider of quantum components: small modules capable of manipulating the faintest light signals (single photons of light) to generate and communicate absolutely secure quantum encryption keys.

World-leading technology

The trial will say, experts, confirm the UK's position at the forefront of quantum-based security technology. Professor Andrew Lord, BT’s head of optical network research, commented, “The UK has firmly established itself as a global leader in quantum-based network security. 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 project will also be commercially beneficial according to Roger McKinlay, Challenge Director for the UK Quantum Technologies Challenge. He said, “This investment is part of a wider package delivered by The National Quantum Technologies Programme, which is set to make a £1bn investment over its life-time.”

McKinlay added, “This is ground-breaking technology but also commercially important, the close collaboration between the parties accelerating the establishment of a UK supply chain.”

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