By Tim Whitley, Managing Director, Research and Network Strategy, BT Group
“If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet” said Niels Bohr, a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum theory in the 1900s.
Since then, scientists have made major breakthroughs in understanding quantum mechanics. Over a century later governments, businesses and research institutions have invested billions into quantum technology research and are now announcing plans that bring quantum technologies close to reality. And this week, we will see scientists, technologists and engineers coming together from across the globe to celebrate ‘World Quantum Day’.
The UK is well and truly in the ‘quantum race’ with the Government just announcing £2.5 billion in support of quantum technologies, showing its commitment to enabling commercial viability. As outlined in the National Quantum Strategy, the aim is to keep the UK competitive in one of the world’s fastest-moving fields of technology by investing in research projects linking in industry and academia.
Why the investment? Quantum technologies promise transformational opportunities across computing, communications, sensing and timing. If we look at quantum computing, it has the potential to solve particular classes of computational problems with an exponential advantage over the fastest supercomputer. This has far-reaching implications for the ability to solve challenges that are currently considered intractable due to their inherent complexity, offering the possibility of major breakthroughs in science, industry, business and everyday life in a multitude of ways. Sectors such as energy, pharmaceutical, finance, telecoms, construction, and civil engineering could be transformed.
Here at BT Group, our ambition is to be the world’s most trusted connector of people, devices, and machines. To achieve that, we must keep defending our customers’ data and services while exploring new technology opportunities. Quantum technology is therefore significant to our business. And, as the UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and related secure digital products, solutions and services, BT Group is critical to the Government’s vision for a 'quantum enabled economy'.
We know that true innovation springs from brilliant people working together across industry and academia and that the rewards of research can only be reaped when down streamed: when innovation is converted into products and services for customers. We welcome the Government’s direction and investment to enable the commercial viability of quantum technologies.
At BT we have been working collaboratively on quantum technologies for many years, and today, we are working across the breadth of quantum technologies to explore real-world applications.
Quantum communications: Developing quantum secure communications is a priority for BT Group as quantum computing brings a threat to classical encryption. We’ve made great progress in this area and last year, together with Toshiba, we launched a world first commercial trial of a quantum secured metro network, with EY becoming the first customer. The network is able to connect numerous customers across London, helping them to secure the transmission of valuable data and information between multiple physical locations using quantum key distribution (QKD).
Quantum computing: We’re working on two ‘Innovate UK’ funded quantum computing projects, in collaboration with a number of technology start-ups: moving the needle on quantum technology research from theory to practical use cases. The first project is focused on infrastructure: we are defining the requirements for setting up a quantum enabled data center, what it means to operate a data center that makes use of quantum technology, and how this would participate in wider end to end services. For the second project we are exploring how quantum computers can provide benefits to telecoms applications such as circuit switching, packet routing, signal processing and antenna beam steering.
Quantum sensing and timing: Quantum sensing applies quantum principles to measure different physical properties, including, gravity, temperature, magnetic field and rotation, with extreme sensitivity. This enables transformational opportunities in areas such as civil engineering, autonomous transport and IoT, which we are exploring.
Timing provides the pulse of the communication networks. If we look to quantum timing, we can see how this could enable improvements in timing and synchronisation technology, leading the way to faster and more dynamic networks. Through projects such as IQClock
, BT is engaged with the next generation of quantum timing.
Quantum technologies will bring about profound changes. The combined efforts of government, industry and academia will ensure that quantum technologies become an integral part of the UK’s digital backbone, unlocking innovation to drive growth and helping to build a thriving and resilient economy, while also contributing significant value to the UK’s prosperity and security. BT Group is at the heart* of the UK quantum ecosystem and we’re excited to be part of this transformational journey.
Founding member of the UKQuantum Group
Member of the National Quantum Technologies Programme
Member of the National Quantum Computing Centre Technical Advisory Group
Partner to NPL
, who is playing a critical role in achieving the Government’s quantum ambition. BT is supporting thinking around standardization, central testing and measurement services, which will be critical for suppliers to bring quantum products to market.