Researchers from UK universities and industry have come together in a unique collaboration to develop secure quantum communication technologies.
Led by the University of York, the project has bid successfully for government funding from the new £155 million National Network of Quantum Technology Hubs. The researchers hope to build compact, affordable quantum encryption devices, as well as the UK's first optical network secured by the fundamental laws of physics.
The national network is financed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) from the £270 million investment in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme announced by the Chancellor, George Osborne in his Autumn Statement of 2013. Other hubs in the network will investigate quantum technologies in sensors and metrology, enhanced imaging, and information processing.
The £24 million, five-year quantum communications project involves eight universities - Bristol, Cambridge, Heriot-Watt, Leeds, Royal Holloway, Sheffield , Strathclyde and York - each of which will contribute world-class expertise and facilities.
In York, the team comprises staff from the departments of Computer Science, Mathematics and Physics and will be a major activity of the recently launched York Centre for Quantum Technologies.
Private sector partners include BT, the National Physical Laboratory, and Toshiba Research Europe Ltd, all of whom are world leaders in advanced research and development in quantum communications.
The main focus of the Hub will be on secure communications, with emphasis on quantum key distribution (QKD) - one of the first quantum information technologies with market potential. The Hub is aiming to make breakthroughs in affordability and integration that will lead to widespread use of the technology. Developments will include chip-scale integration of QKD, and the design and build of prototype hand-held QKD devices.
The Hub will also build the UK’s first quantum communications network. This will be based initially on the National Dark Fibre Infrastructure Service (NDFIS), which currently links a number of the Hub’s university partners. The new network will be extended to other sites over time, providing a geographically distributed test-bed outside the lab for developing, testing and demonstrating new quantum technologies and services.
Announced in April 2014, the NDFIS is based on software defined network (SDN) control principles and, as such, will be fully programmable by experimenters and end-users. University College London (UCL) won the five-year contract to operate the network, which is jointly funded by EPSRC and Jisc, which also funds UK research and education network JANET.
In addition to connecting project partners, the Quantum Communications Hub will make the new network available to groups of users as trialists and early adopters. Potential users include major commercial and industrial business clusters, as well as groups of consumers. These geographical clusters and groups, in and around Cambridge, Martlesham and Bristol, will be supported by Hub partners local to them – Cambridge Network Ltd, BT and Bristol City Council respectively.
The Director of the Quantum Communications Hub, Professor Tim Spiller of the Department of Physics at York, said: “Collaboration is key to the project, and our Hub has brought together a multi-disciplinary team of world-class researchers and industry leaders. We will take from across the partnership the best existing theoretical and experimental research as well as current technology demonstrators. These will underpin the development necessary for prototype products and services that will stimulate the market and the consequent take-up.”