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UK launches World’s first commercial-grade quantum communications testing link

Today, the world’s first commercial-grade quantum test network, UKQNtel, has been launched. A collaborative venture between research and industry, and a milestone in the progress towards developing secure quantum communications for the UK

Communication is a critical infrastructure integral to all industries. With data our most valuable asset, it is essential that we are confident in its integrity and security. Quantum technologies have the potential to enable industries, ranging from banking to healthcare, defence and logistics, to send critical and sensitive information much more securely.

The newly launched quantum-secured, high-speed link stretches from BT’s Adastral Park research campus, near Ipswich in the East of England, to Cambridge. It will enable testing and demonstration of new quantum technologies, such as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which are expected to play a central role in future communications systems worldwide.

The link not only connects 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. The link forms part of the UK Quantum Network (UKQN) being built by the Quantum Communications Hub, part of the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme.

Although quantum communication protocols can be proven unconditionally secure in theory, in practice real systems may have vulnerabilities which need to be identified and nullified, so security testing is vitally important.

NPL is collaborating with many industry partners to test and characterise new quantum communications hardware under development. On the new UKQNtel link, NPL and the University of York are working with BT, IDQ, the University of Cambridge and ADVA to develop the measurements necessary to help assess the security of its distributed QKD keys.

Tim Whitley, MD of Research for BT, said: “The BT Labs at Adastral Park have played a central role in the development of the fibre optic networks that we now take for granted as the backbone of global communications. We’re proud to be at the forefront of the next generation of network design, helping the UK take the lead in the development of ultra-secure quantum networks, and keeping our customers’ data safe in years to come.”

Tim Spiller, Director, Quantum Communications Hub, said: "This new network represents a major step forward for the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, providing a direct link between research and industry, and an opportunity to develop new applications and services."

Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of the National Physical Laboratory, said: “NPL and the Quantum Communications Hub have established an excellent collaboration with hub staff and students working within our team. We are very pleased to be able to add our test and measurement capability for QKD systems into the UKNtel programme. Working with industrial, academic and government partners, we hope to help establish the real potential of quantum communications for future security applications.”

Find out more about the work that NPL are doing in quantum and read our blog on quantum communications.

26 Mar 2019