Madrid prototype aims at market-ready quantum security

A prototype quantum key distribution (QKD) technology designed to be deployed on Spanish public metropolitan networks has been developed by Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM)’s School of Computing, and telecoms operator Telefónica’s Research and Development branch.

QKD technology uses uses qubits (quantum bits) that are typically encoded in individual photons to generate ultra-secure cryptographic keys to traffic data securely over optical networks (or even satellite links in the future). Using a complex protocol, senders and receivers exchange a series of qubits to create the key. The principles of quantum physics mean that keys can be described as unbreakable, as an attempt at intercepting a qubit would be detectable by the receiver.

By serving end-users through an access network that will use quantum links on a conventional network infrastructure, the UPM’s QKD network prototype aims to overcome the limitations of point-to-point links and non-shared fibers, thus making the technology available to small- and medium-sized enterprises (and even multiple end-users) through the standard shared communications infrastructure, says UPM project leader Professor Vicente Martín.

Although there remains “much work” to be done in developing the prototype into a product that any telecommunications company could deploy commercially, the UPM project is “working towards bridging this gap”, Professor Martin explains: “There is a need to use QKD devices tightly-integrated with conventional telecommunications networks, [as] running a QKD network as a separated infrastructure [requiring] dedicated point-to-point optical fibers for the quantum channel, etc., would not be cheap.”

The UPM project’s focus is on “sharing as much infrastructure as possible between the quantum and conventional parts and manage services and network in an integrated way,” Martin adds. “This would make a QKD network that can grow on demand, and serve keys to any service that needs them - or even be used to test the integrity of the telecommunication network itself. The final aim is to have in place the know-how - and all of the main components - that would make a commercial deployment possible at reasonable cost.”

The prototype is being developed as part of the CENIT-SEGUR Security and Confidence in the Information Society R&D programme. With a budget of €31m, the project partners form a consortium of 12 companies and 15 public research institutions.

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