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BT has announced a partnership with Toshiba for the UK’s first commercial trial of a quantum secured metro network in London with management consultancy EY.
BT regards quantum key distribution (QKD) as capable of playing a fundamental role in protecting networks and data against the emerging threat of cyber attack using quantum computing, and says the new London network represents a critical step towards reaching the UK government’s strategy to become a quantum-enabled economy.
The infrastructure is intended to connect EY customers across London – principally in the field of accounting – helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fibre-optic links from BT’s Openreach broadband provision division using QKD. EY will use the network to connect two of its sites in London, one in Canary Wharf and one near London Bridge.
It will demonstrate how data secured using QKD can move between sites and will showcase the benefits that this network brings to its own customers.
BT and Toshiba first announced their commitment to creating a trial network in October 2021. Although the official launch date of the trial with EY has just been announced, the network has been running since early April 2022 and will operate for an initial period of up to three years.
Preparation, technical deployment and testing for the network began in late 2021. This included equipment deployment in racks, adding security systems and resilience testing, and finally running and optimising the network.
The technical collaboration for the network was conducted in BT’s Adastral Park labs in Suffolk, and the quantum technology business division of Toshiba, based in Tokyo, Japan and Cambridge, UK, where the QKD technology has been developed and is manufactured.
The trial will see BT operate the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high-bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s private fibre networks, while Toshiba will provide QKD hardware and key management software. In the network, QKD keys will be combined with the in-built ethernet security, based on public-key encryption, which will enable the resultant keys to be used to encrypt the data.
For Praveen Shankar, UK & Ireland managing partner for technology, media and telecoms at EY, quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but also presents potential risks. He sees quantum secure data transmission as the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy.
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He told Computer Weekly: “Our clients are looking for solutions from us. We are trying to find solutions to the challenge of the quantum computing age. And this is a challenge. Our first step is to try it out for ourselves and secure data. We are using test data, so we can do our own audit in parallel while we have a system live.
“For EY, we have to reimagine our business and second is how do we help our clients. We’ll start experimenting so that clients can come in and also start experimenting and then think about what they can do for their business. So, for us it is a dual thing: how do we do it for ourselves, and how do we serve our clients?”
Shankar also warned about the dangers of not doing anything with regard to quantum computing. “We have a duty towards ourselves and the clients,” he said. “If in five years’ time, 10 years’ time, quantum computing could generate a big rush, something much bigger than Y2K. We can’t wait. The status quo is not enough, and we have to act. All companies have to start acting.”
BT’s chief technology officer, Howard Watson, added: “This is a significant moment in the UK’s journey towards a quantum-enabled economy, but we’re not there yet. 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. I am 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.”