Quantum technologies will have a profound impact on the telecoms industry and on the UK’s digital economy as a whole. Increased trust and security from quantum-secured communications services, increased network performance from quantum network timing, increased operational efficiency from quantum computing and civil engineering efficiencies from quantum sensing in fibre deployments. The resulting potential for the UK is a national digital infrastructure that is underpinned by quantum technologies (QT) and that is an international exemplar for a UK-based global supply chain.
This opportunity is in large part thanks to the UK’s investment in the National Quantum Technology Programme. A strategic investment that has accelerated the development of advanced quantum technologies and, crucially, has forged closer collaboration between industry and academia. BT’s partnership with ADVA, Id Quantique and the Quantum Communications Hub, led by the University of York, enabled the launch of the first commercial-grade quantum key distribution (QKD) network between BT Adastral Park and the University of Cambridge. The additional funding commitment through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund allows us to further the commercialisation of quantum technologies (QT) including areas such as satellite-based QKD.
This however is a critical point in time for quantum technologies in the UK telecoms sector, specifically QKD and quantum-secured communications (QSC) services. BT will be an end-user of quantum computing, timing etc. but for QSC we will be a critical part of the value chain: we are responsible for transforming quantum products into the quantum-enabled services that can be used by businesses. The integration of quantum products with operational service management systems brings with it a new set of technical challenges which we are addressing in part through classic collaborative R&D activities. However, service providers such as BT are also facing significant challenges of: a nascent market demand for quantum-communications services, limited availability of commercial technology and an embryonic UK supply-chain.
To move forward service-providers such as BT must simultaneously prove the operational viability of services to its customers, the commercial viability to its shareholders and articulate clear technical requirements to potential suppliers.
These may seem to be challenges for industry itself to address but we argue that they are far more profound and critical to the entire national quantum communications value chain. This leads us to conclude that the UK would benefit significantly from an integrated national response. This should include a national Telecoms Quantum Technology Innovation Centre (T-QTIC) focussed on accelerating the development of commercial services, systems & components in collaboration with a UK-based ecosystem.
Jonathan Legh-Smith is the Head of Scientific Affairs at BT Technology.
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