BT and Toshiba install UK’s first quantum-secure industrial network between key UK smart production facilities

BT and Toshiba install UK’s first quantum-secure industrial network between key UK smart production facilities

BT and Toshiba Europe Limited today announce the UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network, transmitting between the National Composites Centre (NCC), the UK’s world-leading composite research and development facility, and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), a not-for-profit research organisation that pioneers new digital engineering capabilities.

Funded by Innovate UK’s AQuaSeC project, the network demonstrates how Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) – an essentially un-hackable, cutting edge technique for sharing encryption ‘keys’ between locations using a stream of single photons – can be used to secure data traffic between key industrial sites where security is of paramount importance.

The technology solution is being used to replace a ‘manual’ approach of physically transporting sensitive data on portable storage devices between the NCC and CFMS sites in Emerson’s Green and Filton in North Bristol, as well as at the University of Bristol, thereby saving time and enhancing the security of critical data. Instead of physically transmitting the data, it is now transferred at high-speed over 6km of fibre optic cable, along which the encryption keys are also transmitted as a stream of single ‘encoded’ photons.

Using standard Openreach fibre, Toshiba’s QKD system enables the distribution of 1000s of cryptographic keys per second. Its innovative multiplexing compatibility allows the data and the quantum keys to be transmitted on the same fibre, eliminating the need for costly dedicated infrastructure for key distribution. While this first deployment covers a range of 6km, the current maximum range extends up to 120km – allowing ultra-secure data transmission across major metropolitan environments.

The network also benefits from Toshiba’s Active Stabilisation technology, which allows the system to distribute key material continuously, in even the most challenging operating conditions, without any user intervention. This avoids the need for recalibration of the system due to temperature-induced changes in the fibre lengths.

“This first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network in the UK is a significant milestone as we move towards a quantum-ready economy. We’re excited to be working alongside our long-term partner in Toshiba, as well as the NCC and CFMS as industry-leading bodies in the UK, to demonstrate the ultra-secure nature of quantum cryptography,” said Prof. Andrew Lord, Head of Optical Technology, BT. “The power of quantum computing offers unprecedented opportunity for UK industry, but this is an essential first step to ensure its power can be harnessed in the right way and without compromising security.”

“We are delighted to help the NCC and CFMS secure sensitive design and manufacturing data shared between their sites. Our solution can be implemented on standard BT fibre infrastructure and is applicable to a wide range of different applications, allowing organisations to ensure the long-term security of their data and protect it from even the most powerful computers,” said Dr. Andrew Shields, Head of Quantum Technology at Toshiba Europe Limited. “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.”

“We are delighted to be working with BT and Toshiba, participating in this pioneering deployment” said Marc Funnell, Head of Digital, and Director of DETI at the NCC. “Enabling higher levels of collaborative access for the distributed supply chain, it will unlock the potential for IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) where ultra-secure transmission and sharing of data is crucial. As part of Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI), a strategic programme of the West of England Combined Authority (WECA), the quantum-secure link will demonstrate the potential for the distributed offsite control of factories. Linked with 5G-Encode, this will provide access to a 5G industrial test bed at the NCC which will showcase the security, reliability and connectivity required to advance UK manufacturing.”

“As more enterprises embrace digital technologies in different ways, securing the transmission of data becomes more critical," said Nathan Harper, Head of CFMS' Engineering Compute Services. "CFMS is pioneering the use of digital engineering, deploying technologies such as AI or digital twins in which the secure transmission of data becomes essential. Being part of the QKD trial, sharing data using advanced encryption techniques and understanding the performance of these with our partners is therefore both exciting and very useful.”

BT and Toshiba are global leaders in the development of quantum cryptography following decades of research – and years of close collaboration – at the BT Labs in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, and the Toshiba Cambridge Research Laboratory, respectively. While today’s announcement marks the first UK deployment of QKD, Toshiba has multiple Proofs of Concept (PoCs) currently in operation globally – these include sites within the US and Japan, working within highly sensitive areas such as healthcare and financial services. The installation also demonstrates BT’s ongoing commitment to developing the technologies which will secure next generation networks for the UK’s individuals, businesses and infrastructure. The company currently spends in the region of £60m each year on security research and development, investing in technologies ranging from quantum secure networks such as this to industry-leading AI and data visualisation capabilities.

It is expected that quantum computing will play a key role in the transformation of the UK’s economy in a post-Brexit world, with the potential to have an instrumental impact in the future of connected smart factories and Industry 4.0. Last month the UK government announced the creation of the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) – expected to be completed 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, as further evidence of its commitment to a quantum future.

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