A quantum of solace? Vodafone and IBM team on R&D

Martyn Warwick
By Martyn Warwick

Nov 10, 2022

  • Security is at the forefront of every country’s and company’s mind 
  • Vodafone has teamed up with IBM to explore the impact of quantum computing on telecom
  • The operator aims to apply quantum cryptography to secure its networks 
  • Now is the time to invest in quantum research, notes Vodafone’s Luke Ibbetson

Given the parlous state of the world, the imminence of the arrival of quantum computing, and the massively increased numbers of cyberattacks on networks of every sort by the likes of China, Iran, North Korea and Russia, security is at the top of the agenda for western governments. Hence the news today that IBM and Vodafone are partnering to research and provide quantum-safe cybersecurity. 

The collaboration will involve Vodafone applying IBM Quantum Safe cryptography technology across its entire multinational and highly diverse network infrastructure and systems. Vodafone is also joining the IBM Quantum Network, which will give it cloud-enabled access to IBM’s advanced quantum computing systems. 

The goal is to test, validate and progress potential quantum use cases in telecoms. When they arrive, which is not very far into the future, quantum computers will pose a major threat to today’s security standards, such as public key encryption. For years now governments, academics, engineers and big commercial companies have been working on quantum-safe cryptography protocols that will not only be future-proof but will also be able to, retrospectively,  protect so-called ‘classical’ data and systems from the decryption abilities that quantum computers will be able to bring to bear on extant live and archived data. 

Various countries (see the list of the usual suspects above) are known to be stealing vast amounts of data (commercial, military, academic) that they are unable to decrypt with today’s technology but will be able to access when quantum computers arrive. 

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced that four algorithms (three of which IBM helped develop) have been chosen to be part of a protocol for standardisation by 2024. 

Luke Ibbetson, head of group R&D at the Vodafone Group, said that investing now in quantum-safe cryptography “gives us the peace of mind that our infrastructure and customer data will also always be secure as we explore the benefits of quantum computing.” 

Scott Crowder, vice president for IBM quantum adoption and business development, added that the partnership with Vodafone will help the telco to “adopt quantum technology and move to quantum-safe technology as they serve an entire ecosystem of operators, vendors, regulators, and open-source community.” 

The two companies are also the initial members of the Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce that was recently formed by industry body the GSMA to “help define policy, regulation and operator business processes for the enhanced protection of telecommunications in a future of advanced quantum computing.”

The IBM Quantum Network has more than 200 members across the globe. The Network comprises a mix of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and research labs working to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications. 

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