Mission possible: A UK quantum-enabled economy

Via BT

Nov 23, 2023

The race is on globally to develop a quantum enabled economy. Today, the Government’s delivery of the Autumn Budget and their ‘Quantum Missions’ report, signals a critical step forward in the UK’s ability to lead.

Quantum technologies promise transformational opportunities, unlocking innovation to drive growth and helping to build a thriving and resilient economy, whilst also contributing significant value to a country’s prosperity and security.

The UK is well and truly in the ‘quantum race’ being ranked as 2nd in the world for the number of quantum companies and private investment in quantum, but the challenge now is to keep the pace up.

Today, the Government has turbo-boosted the UK’s ability to compete, by setting out its long-term ‘time-bound’ missions: missions that will have wide-ranging benefits, enabling industry, academia and investors to come together to make them a reality and signal the UK’s intent internationally.

As this quantum enabled economy emerges, having a secure digital infrastructure at its heart will be critical. Here lies the challenge - advances in quantum computing will disrupt security as we know it. This is because quantum computing has the potential to be able to crack the mathematics that underpins much of the current cryptography that is used to secure networks. It is believed that within the next decade we won’t be able to rely on some forms of encryption that protects our data today. But it’s not just a problem for the future. Securing encrypted traffic is a pressing problem today because data which requires long term security could be at risk of ‘store today, crack later’ attacks.

As the UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and related secure products, solutions and services, what we deliver is essential to lives, businesses and communities. Security is therefore a top priority and developing quantum secure communications is an important part of that.   

We started R&D into quantum secure communications years ago and have journeyed to a point we are at today, whereby we have built a ‘world first’ commercial trial of a quantum secure metro network in London, alongside Toshiba, with EY becoming the first customer and HSBC recently joining. The network connects customers across London, helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations using a technology called ‘quantum key distribution’ (QKD).

QKD is a quantum safe cryptography technology. Imagine if you had ‘super-hearing’ to detect someone eavesdropping on your conversation from miles away. This is similar to QKD which instantly detects interference on the network and raises an alarm.

BT Group is part of a rich, UK quantum ecosystem – across academia, start-ups and scale-ups, inward investors, governmental and publicly funded bodies – and its one which has cross-party support.

Today, we’re delighted to see that one of the mission headlines is for the UK to deploy the world’s most advanced quantum network at scale by 2035, pioneering the future quantum internet. Nationwide quantum secure connectivity coupled with early commercialisation and an ambition for international quantum networks will be critical enablers of the UK quantum economy. The London quantum secure metro network represents an important step towards this ambition, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Government and our partners over the coming months.

By accelerating commercialisation of quantum technologies with long-term strategic benefit for the UK, whilst providing a showcase for the UK’s capabilities, we can lead this race.

- By Gabriela Styf Sjoman, Managing Director, Research and Network Strategy, BT Group

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