BT and Toshiba build ‘world’s first’ quantum metro network

BT and Toshiba to build ‘world’s first’ quantum metro network

05 October 2021 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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BT is to build what it calls the world’s first quantum-secured commercial metro network, operating from London to Bristol.

The company, working with Toshiba, will provide data services secured using quantum key distribution (QKD) and post-quantum cryptography (PQC).

Howard Watson (pictured), CTO of BT, said: “BT and Toshiba have established a global lead in the development of quantum-secure networks. We’re excited to be taking this collaboration to the next level by building the world’s first commercially operational quantum-secured metro network in London.”

BT and Toshiba have been working together on quantum encryption for at least three years. In 2018 Andrew Shields, now head of the quantum technology division at Toshiba Europe, told Capacity that data being stored using today’s RSA encryption won’t be secure “in maybe 10-15 years. If you want to keep information secure you won’t be able to use RSA because that will be broken.” He advised people to “start securing the data now”. Earlier this year Toshiba’s UK laboratory in Cambridge pushed the distance for secure quantum communications to 600km from a previous limit of 100-200km of fibre.

BT says that it will operate the new network, which will link London’s two financial hubs – the City and Canary Wharf – with the M4 corridor, known for its data centre cluster as well as its high-tech companies, as far as Bristol.

BT said it will provide “a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over Openreach’s optical spectrum access filter connect solution for private fibre networks”.

The QKD links will be provided using a quantum network that includes both core and access components, and will be integrated into BT’s existing network management operations. Toshiba will provide quantum key distribution hardware and key management software.

BT said the pace of progress in quantum computers “presents an increasing risk to standard encrypted key exchanges, authentication and digital signatures; some estimates suggest that quantum computer enabled security attacks are possible within five years, and likely to occur within 10 years”.

It added that “securing encrypted traffic is a pressing problem today, because data which requires long term security could be at risk of ‘store today, crack later’ attacks, in which the key exchange and encrypted traffic are stored now and broken when a sufficiently powerful quantum computer is available”.

BT and Toshiba said that, while they have previously installed a point-to-point quantum-secure link between two commercial sites, deploying a full quantum-secured metro network environment with multiple endpoints requires new approaches to integration and management.

The two companies said their initial focus will be to provide trials for enterprise customers that are carrying sensitive traffic – such as database backups – between sites, and to explore potential future offerings such as encrypted links and “quantum keys-as-a-service”.

Watson said: “Secure, robust and trusted data transfer is increasingly crucial to our customers across the globe, so we’re proud of the role our quantum R&D programme is playing in making the world’s networks safer as we enter the dawn of a new age of quantum computing.”

Taro Shimada, corporate senior vice president and chief digital officer at Toshiba, said: “Our partnership with BT will allow us to offer organisations quantum-secured network services which protect their data from retrospective attacks with a quantum computer. We are delighted to work with BT, with its long heritage of delivering secure, trusted networks. This network paves the way for commercial QKD services in the UK and eventually beyond.”