Launching the first quantum network in the UK

Launching the first quantum network in the UK
Quantum networks are so secure because they rely on particles of lights, or photons, to transmit encryption keys through optical fibres.

The first quantum network has been launched in Cambridge, UK, enabling secure communications between three sites around the city.

The new quantum network provides secure quantum communications between the Electrical Engineering Division at West Cambridge, the Department of Engineering in the city centre and Toshiba Research Europe Ltd (TREL) on the Cambridge Science Park.

Researchers have been testing the secure network for the last year, providing the stable generation of quantum keys at rates between two and three megabits per second.

Why are quantum links so secure?

These links are so secure because they rely on particles of lights, or photons, to transmit encryption keys through optical fibres.

To stop attempted interceptions of the communications, the key changes through the laws of quantum mechanics, rendering the data useless.

Quantum keys are used to securely encrypt data, both in storage and transit. Professor Timothy Spiller of the University of York, and Director of the Quantum Communications Hub, said: “Through this network, we can further improve quantum communications technologies and interoperability, explore and develop applications and services, and also demonstrate these to potential end users and future customers.”

The Quantum Communications Hub

The network is a project of the communications hub, which is a consortium of eight UK universities, private sector companies and public-sector stakeholders. The University of Cambridge said it was built by partners of the hub including:

  • The university’s Electrical Engineering Division;
  • TREL – who supplied the Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) systems;
  • ADVA – who supplied optical transmission equipment; and
  • The university’s Granta Backbone Network – who provided optical fibre.

Professor Ian White from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering said: “The development of the UK quantum network has already led to a much greater understanding of the potential of this technology in secure applications in a range of fields, in addition to bringing new insights into the operation of the systems in practice.”

Dr Andrew Shields, Assistant Director of Toshiba Research Europe Ltd said: “Working with the Quantum Communications Hub, Cambridge and ADVA has allowed us to develop an interface for delivering quantum keys to applications.”

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