The operator is working with a number of tech partners to trial quantum key distribution (QKD) as a security option for 5G

For most of us, quantum computing is a concept straight out of science fiction – a futuristic technology that belongs in a movie, not real life.
But, as so often happens, the technology that was once deemed fantasy is becoming a reality, with real-world applications for quantum technologies not as far away as one might imagine.
Today, BT’s new AIRQKD trial is attempting to apply the latest quantum security techniques to 5G mobile network, using £7.7 million in funding from the Quantum Technologies Challenge, led by UK Research and Innovation.
Trial will run for three years and will bring together a wide range of partners, from quantum-specialist start-ups to research organisations and universities. University of Cambridge spin-out Nu Quantum; IoT cybersecurity start-ups Angoka and ArQit; and quantum computing company Duality Quantum Photonics, are among the raft of project collaborators. 
The ultimate goal of the trial is to build a secure network protected by QKD, a quantum security method whereby individual photons are used to exchange cryptographic key data between two users; this random key, known only between the two users, is used to encrypt and decrypt data being transferred. 
What makes this technology particularly attractive is how it defends against third-party attempts to interact with the data being transferred. By its very nature, measuring or observing a quantum system fundamentally alters that system, thus any attempt to illicitly access the data can be detected and the communication immediately aborted.
BT is hopeful that this QKD technology will eventually be used to secure the connection between 5G towers and mobile devices, as well as to connected cars.
“The UK has firmly established itself as a global leader in quantum-based network security,” said Professor Andrew Lord, BT’s head of optical network research. “With the AIRQKD trial, we’re delighted to be taking this to the next level and combining multiple quantum technologies from innovative UK start-ups to build the world’s most secure fixed-mobile communications link. Connected cars are only one of the possible range of applications that will benefit from such ultra-secure connectivity in the future.”
BT is not the only one exploring this technology for network security. Back in July, Deutsche Telekom joined forces with the Open European Quantum Key Distribution (OPENQKD) consortium to research the same technology, while SK Telekom announced in August that it was teaming up with DGB Daegu Bank to apply 5G quantum cryptography to the bank’s mobile app.
While quantum technology is still very much in the experimental phase, breakthroughs are being made regularly and it will not be many years before we see it much more widely incorporated in the telcos’ repertoire. 
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