Inside Quantum Technology

BT, Toshiba launch metro QKD network in London with EY as first customer

Howard Watson, CTO, BT (left) and Shunsuke Okada, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Toshiba (right)

U.K. telecom provider BT and quantum technology partner Toshiba this week announced what they claimed is the first trial of a commercial quantum key distribution-enabled metro network, which has been up and running in London in recent weeks with professionals services firm EY officially engaged as the first customer.

The announcement makes good on a pledge made a few weeks ago by Andrew Lord, senior manager of Optical Networks and Quantum Research at BT Global Services, who told IQT News that the companies were set to launch the network this month.

Lord said at that time that while there have been many QKD trials, BT and Toshiba are “turning QKD into a network capability, one that is “fully integrated into our regular BT exchanges, our BT software management systems, our BT alarm systems, our data communications network, so that it becomes like business as usual.”

The new network uses QKD to protect fiber network links from the threat of cybersecurity attacks originating from quantum computers. EY, the first announced commercial customer to use QKD to secure live data transmission between its own sites, is using the network to connect two offices in London, one in the Canary Wharf area and the other in London Bridge. Its involvement is a major sign that quantum-secure communications for corporate enterprise customers are getting much closer to reality. (The Quantum Enterprise just so happens to be the major theme of the next IQT event in San Diego in less than two weeks.)

“Quantum technology creates new and significant opportunities for business, but presents potential risks,” said Praveen Shankar, EY U.K. & Ireland Managing Partner for Technology, Media and Telecoms. “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.”

Lord said that a commercial trial with a real customer can help BT learn much more about the use cases for QKD, including how BT might use it for its own ends and how it might support it as a service offering going forward. 

“Part of the trial is to first with them [the customer, unnamed at the time of the interview] to figure out exactly what those use cases look like,” Lord said. “For example, maybe they just want the keys to do their own stuff and will just pay for those, or maybe they want a fully managed service which is fully encrypted. Maybe they’ll buy Ethernet service with key decryption or maybe they want IP layer encryption. Maybe they want encryption into a data center. So there’s a whole range of different kinds of use cases depending on the customer, which is what we want to explore in the next two or three years on this metro network.”

BT, Toshiba and EY assembled at the BT Tower in London to announce the network’s launch, with officials saying it represents a critical step in the U.K. government’s strategy to become a quantum-enabled economy

BT and Toshiba first unveiled plans to create the QKD metro network last year. BT will operate the network, providing a range of quantum-secured services including dedicated high bandwidth end-to-end encrypted links, delivered over the private fiber networks of its Openreach subsidiary. Toshiba is providing the QKD hardware and key management software. 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, the companies said.

BT CTO Howard Watson stated, “Quantum-enabled technologies are expected to have a profound impact on how society and business operates 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.”

Shunsuke Okada, Corporate Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer of Toshiba, added, “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.”

Dan has covered telecommunications and related topics including semiconductors, sensors, retail systems, digital payments and quantum computing/technology for over 25 years.

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