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09.04.2024Quantum Internet

QuTech and Eurofiber run quantum cryptography on existing fiber in an open testbed

Drawing depicting a secure quantum underground network
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QuTech and Eurofiber, together with QuTech spin-out Q*Bird and other partners, have installed a proof-of-concept quantum communication system between locations in the Utrecht area. The testbed shows that it is possible to build secure communication using carrier grade dark fiber connections, integrating conventional network equipment in a quantum encryption environment.

Current cryptography methods are under threat and Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) provides a tool to increase the security level of data critical to our digital landscape. With QKD, a data encryption key is generated by using quantum effects in such a way that a data network is more secure against wiretapping attacks. Going a step further, measurement device-independent QKD (MDI-QKD for short) offers advantages in security and cost-efficiency when building larger networks, compared to existing point-to-point QKD.

Collaborating to create untappable communication

Recently QuTech and Eurofiber celebrated the successful conclusion of their collaborative project QuaSecom. In this project, the partners were joined by Q*Bird, a QuTech spin-out and system provider for secure quantum communications who participated in the testbed. The partners explored secure communications based on the fundamental laws of quantum physics, on an existing fiber network in the Utrecht area.

Specifically, the team successfully installed a proof-of-concept MDI-QKD system in Eurofiber’s data centres, using its carrier grade dark fiber connections between the locations, as this type of research requires high quality fiberoptic lines. Other partners, like Juniper, who successfully integrated their classical network equipment in the quantum encryption environment, were invited to join the project.

Funding and national context

The project was co-funded by the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) through its Public-Private partnership program and as part of the TKI (‘Topconsortium voor Kennis en Innovatie’) High Tech Systems and Materials. Funding like this helps to significantly accelerate the entry of cutting-edge technology into commercial and industrial markets. Collaborating with key commercial partners such as Eurofiber, Q*Bird, and Juniper, QuTech demonstrates the readiness of its developed technology for practical applications.

Marc Hulzebos, Innovation Manager at Eurofiber comments : “This project has taught us a lot about the possibilities and benefits of quantum connectivity for our fiberoptic infrastructure, including our datacentres. Now we can take the next steps to provide quantum security and encryption to our customers.”

MDI-QKD is one of the building blocks for the National Quantum Network, which is being developed and deployed by the Quantum Delta foundation in one of its Catalyst programs. This program aims to lay the foundation for the next generation of digital infrastructure in the Netherlands.

Taking next generation QKD to market

The technology that was prototyped in the project has already been brought to market and is being commercially exploited by Q*Bird with quantum security hardware that the company further developed in-house.

Ingrid Romijn, co-founder and CEO at Q*Bird and Program Manager at QuTech during the first part of the project: “The project provided us with a great opportunity to showcase and integrate our technology with conventional network equipment and infrastructure, by collaborating with Eurofiber and other testbed users like Juniper.”

The collaboration between Q*Bird and Eurofiber will continue after the QuaSecom project: in February the two parties announced a partnership to integrate Q*Bird’s Quantum Key Distribution systems into Eurofiber’s fiberoptic network infrastructure to enhance the security of the network while empowering its customers to safeguard their data against emerging cyber threats.

Marc Hulzebos: “Our customers – government, businesses and organisations – are looking for reliable connectivity and ever higher security levels. This partnership with Q*Bird is one of the ways in which we can address their current and future needs. It is a next step in data security and while quantum sounds like technology for the future, we are implementing it today.”

Future projects

Meanwhile, QuaSecom isn’t the only project in which QuTech and Eurofiber are collaborating. Both parties, after this successful completion, will be looking to expand into further and broader projects in the future.

Kees Eijkel, Director for Business Development at QuTech: “At QuTech we are always looking to create societal impact and real-world applications. For this, we need industrial partners. In Eurofiber, we found a partner who not only could provide the high-quality dark fiber necessary, but also possesses the innovative drive and robustness to take on and successfully execute projects like these.”

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