BT starts commercial trial of quantum secured London network

3-year deal with Toshiba to run tech with customers across the CIty, West End, and Slough

Updated BT and Toshiba have announced the trial of a commercial quantum secured metro network in London, set to run for three years to evaluate the use of the technology.

The system, which is operational now, uses quantum key distribution (QKD) over standard fibre optic links to securely encrypt data.

The London quantum secured metro network has netted accounting firm EY (formerly Ernst & Young) as its first customer. The company will use the network to connect two of its sites in the capital, one at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands, and the other near London Bridge. However, BT said there will be other users over the three-year period of the trial.

It's not a pure technology trial, as we now have a good grip on the maturity of the technology, but we want to see how customers react... and we need to figure out what to charge for it

The new network is being operated by BT, which will provide dedicated 10Gbps end-to-end encrypted links delivered over Openreach's private fibre networks, specifically Optical Spectrum Access Filter Connect (OSA FC) connections running on wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) kit made by by ADVA Optical Networking.

Toshiba is providing the QKD hardware and the key management systems, and last year announced it had managed to shrink the optical circuits required for QKD systems into discrete transmitter, receiver and random number generator chips.

image quantum from BT

Quantum network diagram according to a BT presentation

QKD is a way to securely distribute encryption keys, which are then used to encrypt and decrypt data for end-to-end transmission using standard public key algorithms. It encodes each bit of the key using a single photon, and because of the quantum nature of these, any attempt to read the photons would alter their quantum state, which can be detected.

The trick to enabling a working quantum secured network is to enable both the QKD and the data traffic to use the same optical fibres, rather than a dedicated fibre connecting a couple of endpoints - as BT did with a test deployment in Bristol in 2020. BT said it has addressed this by operating the QKD on a hop-by-hop basis, with intermediate QKD systems at nodes in the network path.

Prof Andrew Lord, BT's head of Optical Network Research, told us that the three year trial is not to evaluate the technology itself, but to assess how it is received and how to proceed with larger scale rollouts of the technology in future.

"It's not a pure technology trial, as we now have a good grip on the maturity of the technology, but we want to see how customers react to it, and we need to figure out what to charge for it, and these are more commercial questions," he said.

The current quantum secured metro network comprises three nodes, with two in London and a third at Slough in Berkshire, about 32km (20 miles) to the west, but the network technology "could scale up to the whole country if necessary," Lord said, adding that any future plans will depend upon the success of the three-year trial.

Those 10Gbps links can also be upgraded to 100, 200 or 400Gbps in order to carry traffic from multiple customers, according to Lord, and Toshiba's QKD hardware is capable of generating thousands of keys per second to support scaling up to a large number of users.

"Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy," EY UK and Ireland managing partner for Technology, Media and Telecoms Praveen Shankar said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the UK government has previously signalled its intent to develop the country into a "quantum-enabled economy", and BT said that the new London network represents an important step towards building a national network for quantum secured communications. ®

Updated to add:

EY contacted us to point out that the quantum secured metro network is currently being used for testing purposes only. BT confirmed to us that it is working with EY to explore services / use cases, and that it expects the network to carry some of EY's live traffic in the coming months.

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

  • AWS buys before it tries with quantum networking center
    Fundamental problems of qubit physics aside, the cloud giant thinks it can help

    Nothing in the quantum hardware world is fully cooked yet, but quantum computing is quite a bit further along than quantum networking – an esoteric but potentially significant technology area, particularly for ultra-secure transactions. Amazon Web Services is among those working to bring quantum connectivity from the lab to the real world. 

    Short of developing its own quantum processors, AWS has created an ecosystem around existing quantum devices and tools via its Braket (no, that's not a typo) service. While these bits and pieces focus on compute, the tech giant has turned its gaze to quantum networking.

    Alongside its Center for Quantum Computing, which it launched in late 2021, AWS has announced the launch of its Center for Quantum Networking. The latter is grandly working to solve "fundamental scientific and engineering challenges and to develop new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks," the internet souk declared.

    Continue reading
  • Businesses brace for quantum computing disruption by end of decade
    As one expert warns overhype will lead to QC winter. Plus: Mystery Huawei quantum patent surfaces

    While business leaders expect quantum computing to play a significant role in industry by 2030, some experts don't believe the tech is going to be ready for production deployment in the near future.

    The findings, from a survey titled "2022 Quantum Readiness" commissioned by consultancy EY, refer to UK businesses, although it is likely that the conclusions are equally applicable to global organizations.

    According to EY, 81 percent of senior UK executives expect quantum computing to have a significant impact in their industry within seven and a half years, with almost half (48 percent) believing that quantum technology will begin to transform industries as soon as 2025.

    Continue reading
  • This startup says it can glue all your networks together in the cloud
    Or some approximation of that

    Multi-cloud networking startup Alkira has decided it wants to be a network-as-a-service (NaaS) provider with the launch of its cloud area networking platform this week.

    The upstart, founded in 2018, claims this platform lets customers automatically stitch together multiple on-prem datacenters, branches, and cloud workloads at the press of a button.

    The subscription is the latest evolution of Alkira’s multi-cloud platform introduced back in 2020. The service integrates with all major public cloud providers – Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, and Oracle Cloud – and automates the provisioning and management of their network services.

    Continue reading
  • PCIe 7.0 pegged to arrive in 2025 with speeds of 512 GBps
    Although PCIe 5.0 is just coming to market, here's what we can expect in the years ahead

    Early details of the specifications for PCIe 7.0 are out, and it's expected to deliver data rates of up to 512 GBps bi-directionally for data-intensive applications such as 800G Ethernet.

    The announcement from the The Peripheral Component Interconnect Special Interest Group (PCI SIG) was made to coincide with its Developers Conference 2022, held at the Santa Clara Convention Center in California this week. It also marks the 30th anniversary of the PCI-SIG itself.

    While the completed specifications for PCIe 6.0 were only released this January, PCIe 7.0 looks to double the bandwidth of the high-speed interconnect yet again from a raw bit rate of 64 GTps to 128 GTps, and bi-directional speeds of up to 512 GBps in a x16 configuration.

    Continue reading
  • Cisco execs pledge simpler, more integrated networks
    Is this the end of Switchzilla's dashboard creep?

    Cisco Live In his first in-person Cisco Live keynote in two years, CEO Chuck Robbins didn't make any lofty claims about how AI is taking over the network or how the company's latest products would turn networking on its head. Instead, the presentation was all about working with customers to make their lives easier.

    "We need to simplify the things that we do with you. If I think back to eight or ten years ago, I think we've made progress, but we still have more to do," he said, promising to address customers' biggest complaints with the networking giant's various platforms.

    "Everything we find that is inhibiting your experience from being the best that it can be, we're going to tackle," he declared, appealing to customers to share their pain points at the show.

    Continue reading
  • Wireless kit hit by supply chain woes in Q1, China lockdowns blamed
    Backlogs reportedly 10 to 15 times greater than they were pre-pandemic

    The Wireless LAN market was battered by a choppy supply chain in the first quarter of 2022 and lockdowns in China are compounding the problem, according to analysis by Dell'Oro Group.

    Many organizations have scheduled network upgrades, but supply is not able to keep pace with demand and backlogs are reportedly 10 to 15 times greater than they were pre-pandemic.

    Several manufacturers have cited components from second and third-tier suppliers as the cause of the bottleneck, Dell'Oro said, which means that the problem may not be a shortage of Wi-Fi silicon, but rather of secondary components that are nevertheless necessary to make a complete product.

    Continue reading
  • UK police to spend tens of millions on legacy comms network kit
    More evidence of where that half-a-billion-a-year cost of Emergency Services Network delay is going

    The UK's police service is set to spend up to £50 million ($62.7 million) buying hardware and software for a legacy communication network that was planned to become obsolete in 2019.

    The Home Office had planned to replace the Airwave secure emergency communication system, which launched in 2000, with a more advanced Emergency Services Network by the close of the decade. However, the legacy network has seen its life extended as its replacement was beset with delays. The ESN is expected to go live in 2026.

    In a procurement notice, the Police Digital Service (PDS) said it was looking for up to three suppliers of Terrestrial Trunked Radio (TETRA) Encryption Algorithm 2 (TEA2) compatible radio devices – including handheld, desktop, and mobile terminals – as well as software, accessories, services, and maintenance for use on the UK Airwave system.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022