BT installs UK’s first quantum-secured industrial network

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The 6km infrastructure joins smart production facilities and uses quantum key distribution (QKD) for “ultra-secure” data transmission.

The network links the the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the Centre for Modelling and Simulation (CFMS) in Bristol, in south-west England.

BT worked with Toshiba Europe on what they say is the UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network. The NCC is a “world-leading composite research and development facility”, according to the press statement, while the CFMS is a not-for-profit research organisation that pioneers digital engineering capabilities.

The work was funded by Innovate UK’s AQuaSeC project and shows how QKD is “an essentially un-hackable, cutting edge technique for sharing encryption ‘keys’ between locations using a stream of single photons”.

Secure savings

The tech is replacing the physical carriage of sensitive data on portable storage devices between the NCC and CFMS sites in Emerson’s Green and Filton in North Bristol, and the University of Bristol.

Using ordinary fibre, provided by BT’s wholesale access arm Openreach, Toshiba’s QKD system can distribute thousands of cryptographic keys per second. Its multiplexing allows the data and quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, instead of relying on a separate dedicated infrastructure for key distribution.

The first deployment covers a range of 6km, but maximum range is up to 120km, which could support ultra-secure data transmission across and between cities.

The network uses Toshiba’s Active Stabilisation technology, which can distribute key material continuously without manual intervention. This means that the system does not need to be recalibrated to address temperature-induced changes in the fibre lengths.

Opportunities for UK industry?

Professor Andrew Lord, Head of Optical Technology at BT, said, “The power of quantum computing offers unprecedented opportunity for UK industry… this is an essential first step to ensure its power can be harnessed in the right way and without compromising security.”

Last month the UK government announced the creation of the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) – schedule for completion in 2022 – which is intended to help the UK stay at the forefront of the technology. This was unveiled as part of the UK’s £1 billion National Quantum Technologies Programme.

Dr Andrew Shields, Head of Quantum Technology at Toshiba Europe Limited, noted, “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.”

Marc Funnell, Head of Digital, and Director of DETI at the NCC, added, “Enabling higher levels of collaborative access for the distributed supply chain…will unlock the potential for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) where ultra-secure transmission and sharing of data is crucial.”