BT & Toshiba install first quantum-secure industrial network between UK smart production facilities

Quantum Computing

The UK’s first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network has been installed by BT and Toshiba Europe Limited.

Transmitting between the Emersons Green-based National Composites Centre (NCC), near Bristol, the UK’s composite research and development facility, and the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS), a not-for-profit research organisation that pioneers new digital engineering capabilities, which is also based at Emersons Green.

Funded by Innovate UK’s AQuaSeC project, the network demonstrates how Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) – an essentially un-hackable, 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.

The data 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.

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.

Professor Andrew Lord, Head of Optical Technology at BT, said: “This first industrial deployment of a quantum-secure network in the UK is a significant milestone as we move towards a quantum-ready economy. 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.”

Dr. Andrew Shields, Head of Quantum Technology at Toshiba Europe Limited, added: “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.”

Marc Funnell, Head of Digital, and Director of DETI at the NCC, said: “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.”

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.

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) at Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. It is 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.