• EU-funded consortium hoping to accelerate commercialisation of quantum‑enabled clocks.
  • Further expansion to the Group’s ecosystem of quantum partners.

iqClock

BT clocks onto quantum timing tech

Source: iqClock

BT is looking beyond GPS‑based network synchronisation and examining the real‑world application of quantum timing technology, as part of the Europe‑wide integrated quantum clock (IQClock) consortium.

Andrew Lord, Senior Manager of Optical Research at BT, flagged the operator was looking at next‑gen quantum timing systems during a webinar held by the University College London’s Quantum Science and Technology Institute in late‑2020.

Lord said he hoped quantum technology will soon possess the “industrial capacity” to support a “fully synchronised network, independent of global positioning systems [GPS]”.

Quantum timing devices — or active optical clocks (AOC) — are said to provide an “ultra‑precise” means of timekeeping by using sensors to measure the ‘optimal frequency transition’ of energised atoms when exposed to radiation.

IQClock’s promise is of portable AOCs that can operate in space and enable a commercially viable ‘time‑as-a‑service’ system, thereby reducing dependency on potentially error‑prone GPS satellites.

BT’s role in IQClock is to provide network provision expertise, and consult on potential use‑cases for AOCs in a “real‑world environment”. Prospective applications of quantum timekeeping are in areas such as financial services, transportation, defence infrastructure, and telecoms networks.

Under the microscope

IQClock is a three‑year initiative coordinated by the University of Amsterdam, with three UK participants (see table). It is funded by a €10m (£9m) grant provided by the European Union’s (EU) outgoing Horizon 2020 programme, and falls under the umbrella of the EU’s ten‑year Quantum Flagship project. Work commenced in October 2018 and is scheduled to end in September 2021.

BT is also participating in another three‑year quantum communications research project funded by Horizon 2020, called OPENQKD (BTwatch, #307), which is focused on the application of quantum key distribution (QKD). Also worth noting is that the UK government’s Research and Innovation agency has confirmed that UK participants will continue to receive Horizon 2020 grant funding, despite the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020.

BT quantum technology activity, to December 2020

  • BT’s interest in quantum technology has been largely focused on QKD. QKD is seen as a means to enable highly secure infrastructure owing to its use of single light particles (photons) to transmit data encryption keys across networks. Kit suppliers ADVA and Toshiba have been key partners since the beginning.
Publicised deploymentSolution partners (selected)Activity / status
 Sources: BT; BTwatch.

AIRQKD

  • Angoka
  • Duality Technologies
  • Innovate UK
  • Nu‑Quantum
  • University of Bristol
  • University of Warwick

Tie‑up flagged by BT in November 2020 with a number of UK‑based quantum startups, including from Adastral Park’s Innovation Martlesham, for a 36‑month pilot of an “end‑to-end quantum-secured” network to connect 5G and connected and autonomous vehicle applications. Project is funded by the UK government’s innovation agency and will use insights derived from UKQNtel testbed (see below).

Commercial trial of QKD

  • Innovate UK
  • Toshiba Europe

Commercial trial of QKD across two research sites in northern Bristol, highlighted in October 2020. Funded via the AQuaSeC project of Innovate UK, the solution is being used to transport sensitive data, and BT is integrating QKD with Openreach’s wave division multiplexing fibre product.

OPENQKD

 

  • National Physical Laboratory
  • Toshiba Research
  • University of Cambridge

European‑wide research project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme. Work centres on applying QKD technology to various use‑cases such as healthcare and telecoms security. BT was namechecked as a participant in September 2019. Project still ongoing, and also involves Deutsche Telekom, Orange, and Telefónica.

IQClock

  • Chronos Technology
  • University of Amsterdam
  • University of Birmingham

Ongoing collaboration between six academic institutions and six industry partners across Europe, backed by Horizon 2020. Hope is to deliver a user‑friendly quantum timing device for industry. Work began back in late‑2018, with the operator ostensibly playing a consultancy role.

UKQNtel

  • ADVA
  • ID Quantique
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of York

Ultra‑secure quantum” test link opened between BT Labs in Adastral Park and Cambridge University during 2019. Network was built by partners of York University’s Quantum Communications Hub on the basis of testing how the link can be used to securely transfer critical data for multiple industry verticals, including banking. Construction of the network was first flagged in mid‑2018.

First QKD encryption trial

  • ADVA
  • National Physical Laboratory
  • Toshiba Research
  • Innovate UK

First QKD trials highlighted by BT and partners as successfully completed in mid‑2014. Described as the first time a secure connection was established over a single‑lit fibre connection, linking Adastral Park with another BT site in Ipswich.