BT explores quantum networks on world’s first commercial-grade link

News

The world’s first commercial-grade quantum test network link has been opened between the BT Labs in Suffolk and the Cambridge node of the UK’s new Quantum Network.

The advent of quantum computing is set to offer huge increases in computing power and capabilities, but experts warn that in the wrong hands it could also be used to render many of our security encryption measures obsolete.

To both provide and secure future communications, the UK government and industry are working collaboratively on a range of new technologies, including Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

The new high-speed link will enable testing and demonstration of new quantum technologies. This will include trials of how these technologies can be used to secure critical and sensitive data across vertical industry sectors such as healthcare, banking, defence and logistics.

Quantum Key Distribution

The link uses over 125km of standard BT optical fibre between Cambridge and Adastral Park, with BT Exchanges acting as ‘trusted nodes’ along the route. The link will carry both quantum and non-quantum traffic.

The QKD technique shares data encryption keys via an ultra-secure quantum channel over the same fibre that carries the encrypted data itself.

Tim Whitley, MD of Research for BT, said: “The BT Labs at Adastral Park have played a central role in the development of the fibre optic networks that we now take for granted as the backbone of global communications.

"We’re proud to be at the forefront of the next generation of network design, helping the UK take the lead in the development of ultra-secure quantum networks, and keeping our customers’ data safe in years to come.”

UK network

The link forms part of the UK Quantum Network (UKQN) being built by the Quantum Communications Hub and supported by the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The new connection stretches from BT’s Adastral Park research campus near Ipswich in the East of England, to Cambridge. The wider UKQN network then extends onward over the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service to Bristol in the South-West.

The quantum-secured link directly connects not only the research facilities of the BT Labs and the University of Cambridge, but also the high-tech industry clusters at each end: the Cambridge Science Park and Innovation Martlesham near Ipswich. This will support trial projects focused on quantum secure network technologies.

Importance of partners

The network was built by the core partners of the Quantum Communications Hub – BT, and the universities of Cambridge and York.

Support for the development was provided by ID Quantique and ADVA, who supplied the QKD systems and optical transmission equipment, as well as integration expertise.