BT and Toshiba introduce UK-based quantum-secure industrial network

To be transmitted between the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), and funded by Innovate UK’s AQuaSeC project, the new deployment from BT and Toshiba will look to demonstrate how Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) can secure data traffic.

The quantum-secure solution will replace the physical process of transporting sensitive data between the NCC and CFMS sites using portable storage devices.

Instead, the industrial network will transfer the data over 6km of BT Openreach fibre optic cable, along which the encryption keys are also transmitted as a stream of single ‘encoded’ photons.

The QKD system, provided by Toshiba, will enable the distribution of thousands of cryptographic keys per second, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure.

While this first deployment from BT and Toshiba covers a range of 6km, the current maximum range extends up to 120km, which would enable ultra-secure data transmission across major metropolitan environments.

As well as providing the quantum technology, Toshiba has also implemented its Active Stabilisation services, which look to enable continuous operation without the need for user intervention, or recalibration in response to temperature-induced changes in fibre lengths.

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“This first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network in the UK is a significant milestone as we move towards a quantum-ready economy,” said Professor Andrew Lord, head of optical technology at BT.

“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.

“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.”

Dr. Andrew Shields, head of quantum technology at Toshiba Europe Limited, commented: “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.

“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.”

Further innovation

Marc Funnell, head of digital, and director of Digital Engineering Technology and Innovation (DETI) at the NCC, explained how the solution will look to get the best out of other emerging technologies going forward.

“We are delighted to be working with BT and Toshiba, participating in this pioneering deployment,” said Funnell. “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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Nathan Harper, head of CFMS’ engineering compute services, added: “As more enterprises embrace digital technologies in different ways, securing the transmission of data becomes more critical. CFMS is pioneering the use of digital engineering, deploying technologies such as AI or digital twins in which the secure transmission of data becomes essential.

“Being part of the QKD trial, sharing data using advanced encryption techniques and understanding the performance of these with our partners is therefore both exciting and very useful.”

While this marks the first UK-based industrial network secured by quantum technology, following last month’s creation of the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), Toshiba has multiple Proofs of Concept (PoCs) in place globally, including in the US and Japan.

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Aaron Hurst

Aaron Hurst is Information Age's senior reporter, providing news and features around the hottest trends across the tech industry.

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Quantum Computing