BT and Cambridge University launch ultra-secure quantum computing network

A new quantum network has launched joining up BT at Adastral Park and Cambridge University, marking a significant milestone in the UK’s ability to develop and test quantum computing technology.

The commercial grade quantum network link has taken two years to build and was made possible thanks to £2m funding from the Government.

Innovation Martlesham-based companies ADVA and ID Quantique have worked together to create the link that runs a distance of 125Km over standard BT optical fibre. It uses BT exchanges along the route to act as trusted nodes and forms part of the UKQN, which is a result of a collaboration between research and industry run by the Quantum Communications Hub.

Tim Whiley, managing director for research and innovation at BT, said the launch is a “significant step for network security”.

He said: “As well as being the UK’s longest QKD-protected link able to transmit both classical and quantum applications, this solution breaks new ground by showcasing the readiness of quantum cryptography for real-world transport.”

The link carries data at 5 x 100Gb/s and is rendered ‘unhackable’ by Quantum key distribution (QKD).

QKD is a method of quantum security that uses single photons to transmit data encryption keys, making use of the laws of quantum mechanics that say that by simply observing a photon its state will change. Using this method means that if a hacker or eavesdropper attempts to intercept one of these keys, the act of reading the photon will change its state, introducing anomalies into the key and making it impossible for the hacker to read any of the data stream.

The launch event was held simultaneously at the two ends of the network via a QKD encrypted video link.

Jörg-Peter Elbers, SVP, advanced technology, ADVA, sai “To get to this point, we’ve had to find innovative solutions to some major challenges. These include ensuring the stability of the quantum link by fine-tuning launch power across the network. We also had to standardize key exchange protocols and define planning rules. Collaborating with our research and industry partners, we’ve been able to overcome those challenges and are now ready to usher in a new age of ultra-secure data protection.”