New EU quantum project aims for ultra-secure communication in Europe

The EU has launched a new project that aims to build a testbed for secure quantum communications in several European nations.

The European Commission (EC) has announced the launch of OpenQKD, a project that will see the installation of a quantum communication infrastructure testbed that would be significantly more secure than existing technology. In particular, its developers see it as having critical applications in the fields of telecommunications, healthcare, electricity supply and government services.

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is considered an ultra-secure form of encryption that allows data to be transmitted with a very high level of security. When an attempt is made to access the message as it passes between the two points, it changes its form so that the receiver knows it has been tampered with, while deleting or altering the message in the process.

Across the continent, a number of manufacturers and research institutions have been developing various forms of the technology, but will now work together under the OpenQKD project.

The countries that will form the basis of the testbed are Austria, Spain, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Italy, the UK, Greece and the Czech Republic. The project will last a total of three years with a budget of €15m, and will be made up of 38 partners from 13 EU member states as well as Israel and Serbia.

Explaining further, the EC said that while it will be especially focused on the telecoms sector where data traffic security needs to be assured, it could also be used to secure medical and governmental data or the transmission of secure control signals in the electricity grid.

Map of Europe with logos of OpenQKD particpants overlayed.

Participants in the OpenQKD project. Image: OpenQKD

‘Quantum-based cryptography has achieved a mature state’

In addition, OpenQKD will address the development of a European ecosystem for quantum technology providers and application developers, with plans also including identifying new ways to offer modern test facilities for new quantum stakeholders.

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Coordinating the project will be the Austrian Institute of Technology, with one of its scientists, Hannes Hübel, acting as project lead.

Speaking about the project, Hübel said: “After successfully demonstrating the basic concept of QKD, quantum-based cryptography has achieved a mature state and we are proud to lift quantum technology now onto a market-ready level; ready to be deployed in everyday-life applications.”

BT is one of the major telecom giants signed up to OpenQKD, with its head of optical research, Andrew Lord, having said: “We have been trialling QKD technology for several years now and see potential for its commercial exploitation in telecom networks.

“In OpenQKD we will be developing the necessary tools and knowledge for integration into operator networks and customer applications.”

The EU is not the only major power to examine the potential of quantum communication, with China previously launching quantum satellites in orbit to test a new platform that would prevent encrypted messages from being intercepted.

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