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BT and Toshiba team up for UK’s first quantum-secure industrial network

6km network uses Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) to ensure ultra-secure data transmission between the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS) in Bristol

BT and Toshiba Europe today announced the UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network, transmitting between the National Composites Centre (NCC), the UK’s world-leading composite research and development facility, and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), a not-for-profit research organisation that pioneers new digital engineering capabilities.

Funded by Innovate UK’s AQuaSeC project, the network demonstrates how Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) – an essentially un-hackable, cutting edge technique for sharing encryption ‘keys’ between locations using a stream of single photons – can be used to secure data traffic between key industrial sites where security is of paramount importance.

The technology solution is being used to replace a ‘manual’ approach of physically transporting sensitive data on portable storage devices between the NCC and CFMS sites in Emerson’s Green and Filton in North Bristol, as well as at the University of Bristol, thereby saving time and enhancing the security of critical data. Instead of physically transmitting the data, it is now transferred at high-speed over 6km of fibre optic cable, along which the encryption keys are also transmitted as a stream of single ‘encoded’ photons.

Using standard Openreach fibre, Toshiba’s QKD system enables the distribution of 1000s of cryptographic keys per second. Its innovative multiplexing compatibility allows the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure for key distribution. While this first deployment covers a range of 6km, the current maximum range extends up to 120km – allowing ultra-secure data transmission across major metropolitan environments.

The network also benefits from Toshiba’s Active Stabilisation technology, which allows the system to distribute key material continuously, in even the most challenging operating conditions, without any user intervention. This avoids the need for recalibration of the system due to temperature-induced changes in the fibre lengths.

“This first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network in the UK is a significant milestone as we move towards a quantum-ready economy. We’re excited to be working alongside our long-term partner in Toshiba, as well as the NCC and CFMS as industry-leading bodies in the UK, to demonstrate the ultra-secure nature of quantum cryptography,” said Prof. Andrew Lord, Head of Optical Technology, BT.

“The power of quantum computing offers unprecedented opportunity for UK industry, but this is an essential first step to ensure its power can be harnessed in the right way and without compromising security.”

It is expected that quantum computing will play a key role in the transformation of the UK’s economy in a post-Brexit world, with the potential to have an instrumental impact in the future of connected smart factories and Industry 4.0. Last month the UK government announced the creation of the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) – expected to be completed in 2022 – which is intended to help the UK stay at the forefront of the technology.

“We are delighted to help the NCC and CFMS secure sensitive design and manufacturing data shared between their sites. Our solution can be implemented on standard BT fibre infrastructure and is applicable to a wide range of different applications, allowing organisations to ensure the long-term security of their data and protect it from even the most powerful computers,” said Dr. Andrew Shields, Head of Quantum Technology at Toshiba Europe Limited.

“With the UK government’s assertion earlier this month that it wants to be the ‘world’s first quantum-ready economy’, quantum-secure networks are vital to it achieving this ambition, and we’re excited to be at the forefront of making this a reality.”

While today’s announcement marks the first UK deployment of QKD, Toshiba has multiple Proofs of Concept (PoCs) currently in operation globally – these include sites within the US and Japan, working within highly sensitive areas such as healthcare and financial services.

The installation also demonstrates BT’s ongoing commitment to developing the technologies which will secure next generation networks for the UK’s individuals, businesses and infrastructure.

“We are delighted to be working with BT and Toshiba, participating in this pioneering deployment” said Marc Funnell, Head of Digital, and Director of DETI at the NCC.

“Enabling higher levels of collaborative access for the distributed supply chain, it will unlock the potential for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) where ultra-secure transmission and sharing of data is crucial. As part of Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI), a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), the quantum-secure link will demonstrate the potential for the distributed offsite control of factories. Linked with 5G-Encode, this will provide access to a 5G industrial test bed at the NCC which will showcase the security, reliability and connectivity required to advance UK manufacturing.”

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