Telefónica, Huawei trial quantum cryptography on optical network using SDN

Telefónica and Huawei trial quantum cryptography on commercial network using SDN technologies. (Pixabay)

Telefónica and Huawei announced they had conducted a successful field trial of quantum cryptography on commercial optical networks by using SDN.

The significance of the trial is that quantum cryptography could provide a solution for the vulnerability of current cryptographic key implementations. Today, cryptographic techniques encrypt data using a secure key, which is only known to the parties using that key for decrypting the messages between them.

Those cryptographic techniques for key generation are based on highly complex mathematical problems that require long calculations to be resolved. With the growth of computational capacity, the time required to solve these problems becomes shorter, which reduces the security of the keys.

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With the advent of quantum computers, the principles of quantum mechanics could be applied to break the keys used in today's security implementations

By contrast, quantum key distribution (QKD), can be applied to exchange a key between the two ends of a communication. QDK provides protection against the threat posed by quantum computing to current cryptographic algorithms and provides a high level of security for the exchange of data, according to Telefónica.

"We can make a random bit sequence to appear at one place and simultaneously at another one, without making it pass in between," said Juan-Ignacio Cirac, distinguished physicist specialized in quantum computing and member of the Telefónica board in a prepared statement.  "It is sort of magic, but something that quantum physics predicts. It is a way of exchanging secure keys that we have to make the most of, since it cannot be hacked”.

The Telefónica and Huawei trial, which also included (Universidad Politécnica de Madrid), was also notable because it used the service provider's software-defined networking (SDN)-managed commercial optical networks. Previously, QKD feasibility had been demonstrated in labs and field trials, including one conducted by Telefónica and UPM in 2009, but not on commercial infrastructures.

The field trial used the optical infrastructure provided by Telefónica Spain, connecting three different sites within the Madrid metropolitan area. Software-controlled continuous variables-QKD devices, developed by the Huawei Research Lab in Munich in collaboration with UPM, were installed along with SDN-based management modules developed by Telefónica’s CTIO Network Innovation team and the components required to integrate QKD with NFV and SDN technologies developed by UPM.

Telefónica said the combination made it possible to show the use of QKD techniques in a real production environment, combining classical data and quantum key transmission on the same fiber, and demonstrated how the services could be managed and used by different applications.

“The ability to use new network technologies like SDN, designed to increase the flexibility of the network, together with new QKD technology is what allows us to really converge quantum and classical networks on the existing optical fiber infrastructure," said Vicente Martin, Head of the Center for Computational Simulation who leads the team at UPM, in the press release. " Now we have, for the first time, the capability to deploy quantum communications in an incremental way, avoiding large upfront costs, and using the same infrastructure."

While the trial showed the promise of using QDK on commercial networks, which would make it less costly to deploy than on dedicated fiber networks for QDK, Telefónica didn't provide a timeline as to when it would be available.

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