UK's first ultra-secure quantum network link between research and industry launched
A new high-speed network link to boost quantum technology and protect the UK from cyber threats has been developed between Suffolk and Cambridge.
The new network link - co-funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and BT - will be used to trial how new quantum technologies can be used to provide “unhackable” communications for critical and sensitive data across sectors including healthcare, banking, logistics and defence.
Quantum links are secure because they rely on particles of light, or photons, to transmit encryption keys through the optical fibre. If a hacker were to attempt to intercept the communication, the key itself changes through the laws of quantum mechanics, alerting the communicating parties to the presence of an eavesdropper.
The quantum-secured link is between the BT Labs in Suffolk and the Cambridge node of the UK Quantum network, which was launched in 2018.
The link has been built by the Quantum Communications Hub, a collaboration between research and industry directed by Professor Tim Spiller at the University of York and supported by the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme.
The 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 opens the door to a huge range of trial projects focused on quantum secure network technologies and services with potential for exploitation by industry.
Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, said: “The first ever commercial grade, quantum network link between Suffolk and Cambridge is an important step in protecting the UK from cyber threats. The success of our modern Industrial Strategy depends on us maintaining the UK as a hotbed of innovation. We have identified AI and Data as a Grand Challenge to ensure we build on our world-leading reputation in harnessing new technologies, which we will achieve in quantum technology through continued collaboration between industry, government and the National Quantum Technologies Programme.”
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.
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