Quantum Technology Capital: UKQNtel - Bringing the Telecoms Industry to the UK Quantum Network

Lead Research Organisation: University of York
Department Name: Physics

Abstract

Quantum communications technologies are new, disruptive technologies that can outperform what we use today, by providing security based upon the laws of physics. Current prototypes employ quantum uncertainty and randomness for security, and next-generation technologies may well use the even weirder and counter-intuitive feature of entanglement. Information security is absolutely essential everywhere today - for individuals, institutions, businesses, governments and nations. Current secure communications systems have some vulnerabilities, some at risk now and others that may be exposed in the future, as computing power and hacking techniques improve. Secure communications based on quantum physics can eliminate some of these vulnerabilities, providing systems whose security is underpinned by the laws of Nature, for example providing for the secure distribution of cryptographic keys.

Through EPSRC, the UK government is investing heavily in development across a spectrum of new quantum technologies, of which communications form a part. The Quantum Communications Hub is funded to develop current quantum key distribution (QKD) prototypes through to commercial readiness and to turn next-generation quantum communications demonstrations into prototype technologies. The aim is:
- to develop short-range, low cost QKD for mobile devices such as 'phones;
- to develop chip-scale QKD modules, for ease of manufacture and widespread and versatile deployment;
- to investigate new directions in quantum communications, going beyond simple QKD, for example to quantum versions of digital signatures for signing electronic messages or documents;
- to demonstrate QKD over networks and its integration with conventional communications.

The new project UKQNtel builds on the last of these directions. It will connect BT Research and the major ICT and telecommunications cluster at Adastral Park, Martlesham, to the UK Quantum Network (UKQN) being built by the Quantum Communications Hub. This will enable new and direct collaborations between companies at Adastral Park and the Hub partners, accelerating innovation. It will offer QKD and trial quantum-encrypted data services to a large cluster of companies in the very important telecommunications sector. It will enable major Showcase and Demonstration events for quantum technologies, utilizing the outstanding facilities at Adastral Park.

There is great potential for the UK to become a world-leader in the new quantum communications technologies and services arena - for individuals, institutions, businesses and government. In addition to the development of the technologies, it is vital to engage early across the whole spectrum of end-users, to generate "market pull". UKQNtel will crucially enable this early user engagement for the telecommunications and large business sector at Adastral Park. This will complement the consumer engagement in Bristol and the SME engagement on Cambridge Science Park already being pursued by the Quantum Communications Hub. Putting all this together will address user engagement for the whole spectrum of future markets.

Planned Impact

The main impacts of the UKQNtel capital equipment project all derive from the implications of connecting the Adastral Park telecoms cluster and its resources and facilities to the rest of the UK Quantum Network, which is being built by the Quantum Communications Hub. The impacts generated from UKQNtel will be monitored by the Network Access Group (NAG) that manage it, and reported to the Hub Advisory Board (the membership of which includes substantial commercial experience) to ensure coherence and optimisation of both the impacts and exploitation.

Three main pathways to impact are identified; for each the beneficiaries and the benefits are summarised.

1. Access to expertise and resources in BT Labs:
- Researchers in major R&D centres in industry and universities will benefit from new collaborations over the extended UKQN. A specific example is the connection of BT's applied research Labs to those of Toshiba in Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). These three centres have collaboration track record; the direct connection of UKQNtel would enable new work on timing and synchronisation over fibre, in which all have R&D interests directed at commercial exploitation.
- Engineers in major R&D centres in industry and universities will benefit from direct collaboration with BT labs on a range of applied work, including product development.
- Companies connected to the UKQN (e.g. on Cambridge Science Park) - with products, processes or services that would benefit from collaboration with BT - will be able to exploit UKQNtel for this purpose.

2. Access to pilot QKD and secured data services for companies on Adastral Park:
These companies will benefit from:
- shared multiple access in single buildings, enabling collaborative trials and experiments with quantum secure services. This will stimulate ideas for new services and applications that exploit quantum networking.
- dedicated access for specific companies for fixed periods, in order to work on specific projects.

3. UKQN and QKD technology developments in BT's Showcase and Demonstration facilities:
These Showcase facilities are a major resource and currently host over 50,000 visitors a year, with a focus on key business areas for BT: Government; Banking and Finance, National Services (especially Health), and Network Service providers - all targets as early adopters of, and customers for, quantum secure services. Specific benefits from UKQNtel access to these facilities are:
- provision of real-time demonstrations to large audiences and to a wide range of interested parties.
- a shop window for a range of novel quantum communications technologies, such as short range, free space, systems and next generation protocols such as digital signatures, and the services that these can support.
- targeted events and engagement for the local cluster of companies; those in the wider region, nationally and even internationally; key sectors, including those identified as early adopters (e.g. Communications, Network Security, Finance, and Health).

All of these identified impacts will contribute to building "market pull" in a range of sectors. This is crucial for the emergence of new quantum communications technology and service companies, and thus of longer term benefit to the UK economy, in terms of both wealth and hi-tech job creation.


UKQNtel will also deliver major impact from an academic perspective, as detailed in the "Academic Beneficiaries" section.

Publications

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Wright P (2021) 5G network slicing with QKD and quantum-safe security in Journal of Optical Communications and Networking

 
Description Since the advent of Quantum Key Distribution our ability to communicate securely has advanced significantly, but the technology is only recently becoming commercially viable. The transition from pure lab based QKD links to practical systems, co-existing with multiple classical channels, should be as seamless as possible, but the majority of QKD implementations today use research equipment, making adoption of QKD technology inaccessible to commercial end users.

This work focuses on a practical implementation of QKD, using the equipment and environment corresponding to a real-word telecoms network. To achieve this a trusted node quantum network, UKQNtel, has been developed, spanning over 120 km of fibre. It connects academic and industry partners in Cambridge and Ipswich with 3 intermediate trusted nodes in-between; and is capable of securing communications with data rates of 500 Gb/s over a single fibre in each direction. At Cambridge it connects to the Cambridge Quantum Network, part of the wider UK Quantum Network (UKQN), enabling interaction across to the Bristol Quantum Network. Thus the UKQNtel forms a key part of the UK-wide UKQN.

The UKQNtel uses entirely off-the-shelf commercial equipment, with QKD systems which employ the loss tolerant COW[1,2,3] protocol, in parallel with five 100Gb/s polarisation multiplexed QPSK classical channels. The fibre infrastructure has not been specially selected, and thus exhibits the defects and losses associated with a real world fibre network. Data from 5x100G line cards are multiplexed onto the same fibre as the COW quantum channel, alongside the classical supervisory channels supporting the network. In order to minimise interaction between the quantum and classical channels the classical channels are placed in the C-band, with the quantum channel given a wavelength of 1310 nm, where the magnitude of anti-Stokes scattering from the classical channels is low. To further decrease interactions, the classical traffic is launched at relatively modest powers for telecommunications, with these powers being amplified at EDFAs in each trusted node within the network.

Long term operation of the UKQNtel has been achieved with QBERs in the range of 1.8 to 3.3% and end-to-end secure key rates of at least 750 bits/s in the presence of the classical traffic.
Exploitation Route Now that the network is in place and operational, it can be used as a testbed for:
- Research and Development - for new technologies, systems, theoretical approaches and protocols;
- Applications - from system-level management of keys, and their distribution for transparent use, to higher-level applications for securing services;
- Technology testing - by experimentalist researchers, developers of systems and system integrators;
- Demonstration and User Engagement - a showcase for technologies and services, a means to engage with potential users and suppliers of services;
- Trials - of technologies, systems and applications with early adopters.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy

URL https://www.quantumcommshub.net/about-us/quantum-networks/
 
Description The implementation of the UKQNtel network, one of the world's first commercial-grade quantum test network links, between the BT Labs in Suffolk and the Cambridge node of the UK's new Quantum Network, marked a milestone in the development of ultra-secure quantum networks. The advent of quantum computing will offer huge increases in computing power and capabilities, but in the wrong hands it could also be used to render many of our security encryption measures obsolete. In order to both provide and secure future communications, government and industry are working collaboratively on a range of new technologies, including Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). The new high-speed link enables testing and demonstration of new quantum technologies. This will include trials of how these technologies can be used to secure critical and sensitive data across vertical industry sectors such as healthcare, banking, defence and logistics. The link forms part of the UK Quantum Network (UKQN) built by the EPSRC Quantum Communications Hub, a collaboration between research and industry, supported by the UK's National Quantum Technologies Programme. The UKQNtel connection stretches from BT's Adastral Park research campus near Ipswich in the East of England, to Cambridge. The wider UKQN network then extends onward over the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service to Bristol in the South-West. The quantum-secured link directly connects not only 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. This opens the door to a huge range of trial projects focused on quantum secure network technologies and services with potential for exploitation by industry. The link uses over 125km of standard BT optical fibre between Cambridge and Adastral Park, with BT Exchanges acting as 'trusted nodes' along the route. The link carries both quantum and non-quantum traffic; the QKD technique shares data encryption keys via an ultra-secure quantum channel over the same fibre that carries the encrypted data itself. The network was built by some of the core partners of the Quantum Communications Hub - BT, and the universities of Cambridge and York. Support for the development was provided by ID Quantique and ADVA, who supplied the QKD systems and optical transmission equipment, and the system-specific expertise required to integrate it. Intended to stimulate and support the commercial exploitation of quantum research by UK industry, UKQNtel is a clear embodiment of the collaboration between research and industry that is central to the UK's National Quantum Technologies Programme. The link is co-funded through the Quantum Communications Hub by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and BT, and built by academic and research partners.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Retail,Security and Diplomacy
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Quantum Technologies Strategic Capital Investment Call
Amount £2,049,030 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N015207/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2019
 
Description Spiller - EPSRC Doctoral Training Partnership studentship (name of student: Joseph Pearse)
Amount £4,067,668 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/N509802/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 09/2020
 
Description Duan X, Edwards T, Kumar R, Griesser H, Straw A, Wonfor A, White C, Lord A & Spiller T. "Hybrid Manager for QKD Network". Poster presentation at QCrypt 2018, Shanghai, China, 27-31 August 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Duan X, Edwards T, Kumar R, Griesser H, Straw A, Wonfor A, White C, Lord A & Spiller T. "Hybrid Manager for QKD Network". Poster presentation at QCrypt 2018, Shanghai, China, 27-31 August 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://2018.qcrypt.net/
 
Description Lord A. Integration of QKD into telecom networks. Contributed talk at ECOC 2018, 44th European Conference on Optical Communication, Rome, Italy, 23-27 September 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Lord A. Integration of QKD into telecom networks. Contributed talk at ECOC 2018, 44th European Conference on Optical Communication, Rome, Italy, 23-27 September 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Pearse J. - Connecting BT to the UK Quantum Network, Contributed talk at EQTC, 1st International Conference of the European Quantum Flagship, Grenoble, France, 18 - 22 February 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Pearse J. - Connecting BT to the UK Quantum Network, Contributed talk at EQTC, 1st International Conference of the European Quantum Flagship, Grenoble, France, 18 - 22 February 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://eqtc19.sciencesconf.org/
 
Description White C. Quantum Key Distribution in Real Networks. Contributed talk at Photon 2018, Birmingham, 3-6 September 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact White C. Quantum Key Distribution in Real Networks. Contributed talk at Photon 2018, Birmingham, 3-6 September 2018
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018