(ZDNet) The expulsion of Huawei-made equipment from countries’ 4G and 5G Wireless networks resumes in earnest, with projects such as BT’s $701 million effort to rip and replace it all with Nokia and Ericsson equipment by 2027. The reason originally cited was the danger of a security threat.
That couldn’t happen, say scientists and engineers in the emerging field of quantum key distribution, if the world’s telcos were to install QKD equipment in 5G Wireless base stations. These facilities are linked to one another by fiber optic cable. This same cable, the engineers say, could be leveraged to provide impenetrable communications, from which neither China nor anyone else could glean information.
“Although we think of 5G and 4G and cellular and wireless technology, underpinning all of that is a very large fiber optic network. And that fiber optic network needs securing,” recently remarked Dr. Duncan Earl, currently president and CTO of California-based QKD firm Qubitekk Inc., and an 18-year veteran scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratories.
Existing technology — not tomorrow’s quantum discoveries — could provide a long-term security solution for all 5G equipment, including but not limited to Huawei’s. He characterized this solution as “obvious.”
“There’s a big concern over foreign equipment being located or used on a 5G network,” stated Earl, using very diplomatic language. “In these base stations. . . you may be installing equipment that actually is tapping into those communications.” But that “foreign equipment” may have a cost advantage over alternatives from other manufacturers, he went on, especially in building out 5G networks in rural areas. (Huawei’s and ZTE’s price advantages are so well-documented, that this topic alone has become a discussion point in national security circles.)
“You could use quantum technology to essentially hop over these base stations,” says Earl.
In a cellular network, data may traverse a variety of base stations. But one of the curious, even bewildering, phenomena of quantum networks is that the entanglement between qubits at the source and the eventual destination, establishes a kind of ethereal link between them, even in the absence of a direct fiber connection. Thus any quantum bond from point to point would be just as secure as if the network solely had those two points.
Testing this principle in a real-world scenario today is the UK’s largest telco, BT. Last November, at the height of the pandemic, BT announced it would be leading a handful of startup quantum firms in building demonstrations of a key distribution system called AIRQKD, with backing from the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).