BT and Toshiba trials first commercial quantum-secured network with EY

In the UK, BT and Toshiba have launched the trial of a world-first commercial quantum-secured metro network, with EY being the first customer.
27 April 2022

Quantum key distribution is an important technology, playing a fundamental role in protecting networks and data against the emerging threat of cyber-attack using quantum computing. Using properties found in quantum physics, quantum key distribution exchanges cryptographic keys that are provable and guarantee security.

In the UK, BT and Toshiba have launched the trial of a world-first commercial quantum-secured metro network, with EY as the first customer. The infrastructure will be able to connect numerous customers across London, helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations over standard fiber-optic links using quantum key distribution.

As part of the UK government’s strategy to become a quantum-enabled economy, the London network announcement marks a significant step. EY, which is the network’s first commercial customer, will use the network to connect two of its sites in London. It will demonstrate how data secured using quantum key distribution can move between sites and will showcase the benefits this network brings to its own customers.

In October last year, BT and Toshiba announced their commitment to creating a trial network. BT will operate the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s private fiber networks, while Toshiba will provide quantum key distribution hardware and key management software.

In the network, Quantum key distribution keys will be combined with the in-built ethernet security, based on public-key based encryption, which will enable the resultant keys to be used to encrypt the data.

According to Howard Watson, CTO at BT, quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operate in the future, but they are remarkably complex to understand, develop and build, in particular, ensuring that the end-to-end service designs meet the stringent security requirements of the market.

“I’m incredibly proud that BT and Toshiba have successfully united to deliver this unique network, and with EY as our first trial customer, we are paving the way for further commercial explorations for quantum technologies and their use in commercial, and societal applications in the future,” Watson commented.

For Shunsuke Okada, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Toshiba, both Toshiba and BT have demonstrated world-class technology development and leadership through decades of innovation and operation.

“Combining BT’s leadership in networks technologies and Toshiba’s leadership in quantum technologies has brought this network to life, allowing businesses across London to benefit from quantum secured communications for the first time,” added Okada.

The network’s preparation, technical deployment, and testing commenced in late 2021. This included equipment deployment in racks, adding security systems and resilience testing, and finally running and optimizing the network. The London network will operate for an initial period of up to three years.

“Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business but presents potential risks. Quantum secure data transmission represents the next major leap forward in protecting data, an essential component of doing business in a digital economy. Our work with two of the world’s leading technology innovators will allow us to demonstrate the power of quantum to both EY and our clients,” commented Praveen Shankar, EY UK & Ireland Managing Partner for Technology, Media, and Telecoms.

Quantum Key Distribution in the UK

The UK government has plans to develop a quantum-enabled economy, in which quantum technologies will become an integral part of the UK’s digital backbone, unlock innovation to drive growth and help build a thriving and resilient economy, and contribute significant value to the UK’s prosperity and security within the next ten years.

Watson pointed out that the London network is a significant moment in the UK’s journey towards a quantum-enabled economy, but there’s still more needed. This includes further investment commitments to broaden the study of quantum technologies that will contribute to this new economy, including quantum computing, quantum cryptography, and quantum communications.

Quantum computers are unreliable and costly today but the technology, which is being developed by companies including Google, IBM, and Microsoft, offers the potential to crunch data millions of times faster than supercomputers.

The technical collaboration for this network was conducted in BT’s Adastral Park labs in Suffolk, UK, and the Quantum technology Business Division of Toshiba, based in Tokyo, Japan, and Cambridge, UK, where the quantum key distribution technology has been developed and is manufactured.