Quantum computer concept art

BT and Toshiba test first commercial quantum-secure network

Image credit: Dreamstime

EY will become the first commercial customer to ensure quantum secure data transmission between its two major London offices using quantum key distribution (QKD).

Britain's BT and Japan's Toshiba launched the first commercial trial of a quantum-secured network today (Wednesday April 27) that will block the vulnerabilities in encryption predicted to emerge once quantum computing becomes mainstream.

The network will be used by professional services group EY to connect two of its sites in London: one at London Bridge and the other at Canary Wharf. BT will provide the end-to-end encrypted links over its Openreach private fibre networks, while Toshiba is supplying the QKD hardware and key management software, the companies said.

Quantum computers are unreliable and costly today, but the technology offers the potential to crunch data millions of times faster than supercomputers.

This London network represents a critical step towards reaching the UK government’s strategy to become a quantum-enabled economy within the next ten years.

“Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but presents potential risks," said Praveen Shankar, EY UK and Ireland managing partner for technology, media and telecoms. "Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data - an essential component of doing business in a digital economy.”

Rather than storing information in bits, quantum computing makes use of a property of sub-atomic particles that can exist simultaneously in different states. They can then become 'entangled' - meaning they can influence each other's behaviour in an observable way - leading to exponential increases in computing power.

QKD uses photonics to transmit the encryption key in fibre networks. According to BT's Chief Technology Officer Howard Watson, this technology could potentially be used to break current encryption keys while data is being transmitted. If the QKD is hacked in transmission, its state is changed and therefore the attack will be detected in real time.

Watson stressed how BT and Toshiba, with EY as their first trial customer, were "paving the way for further commercial explorations for quantum technologies".

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