Quantum technologies “made in Austria” – AIT coordinates pilot project of European Quantum Communica


Magnus Brunner, State Secretary of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology (BMK), signed the EuroQCI Declaration on behalf of Austria in Brussels in late February 2020. In signing up to this European quantum communication infrastructure (QCI) initiative, 24 EU Member States have now confirmed their intention to create a European cybershield based on quantum communication infrastrucure within the next 10 years. The AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, Austria’s largest applied research organisation, has been running the first European pilot project in the EuroQCI initiative – the Open European Quantum Key Distribution Testbed (OPENQKD) – since September 2019. The project is aimed at deploying quantum encryption to create a secure networked Europe.

AIT expertise gained from many years of research will also play a key role in the first European QCI4EU study, which was launched in February 2020. This study aims to specify the user requirements and use cases which will drive development of the EuroQCI in close cooperation with the participating Member States. The findings will then be used to develop an overall system architecture for EuroQCI, composed of space-based and terrestrial solutions which are secure by design and will cover the entire European Union. The aim of EuroQCI is to facilitate the ultra-secure transmission and storage of information and data, and to link critical public communication assets throughout the entire European Union.

Over the past decade AIT has established an excellent international reputation as a quantum technologies specialist and coordinator of major European projects. They include the highly-competitive European Quantum Flagship programme aimed at developing quantum technologies for the mass market.

OPENQKD: quantum encryption for a secure networked Europe

In September 2019 the EU launched the EUR 15 million Horizon 2020 project OPENQKD. The findings of this 3-year project will flow directly into the EuroQCI initiative. The AIT-led consortium comprises 38 partners from 9 EU Member States, as well as the UK, Switzerland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Israel, consisting of manufacturers, network operators, system integrators, SMEs, research institutions, universities, certification and standardisation bodies, as well as end users, and together covering a broad range of expertise. Designed to establish a secure quantum communications network in Europe, as well as initiating a European ecosystem for quantum technology providers and application developers, the project will focus on developing a variety of demonstrators and future applications. They will include, amongst others, secure data transmission via telecommunication networks and appropriate storage in cloud infrastructures, the protection of sensitive medical information, official communication data, and the secure transmission of control signals used to operate critical infrastructure (telecommunication networks, energy supply). These activities are intended to protect Europe’s digital data economy against present and future threats, such as those from quantum computers, and to secure Europe’s strategic autonomy in the digital age.

Quantum Flagship projects UNIQORN and CiVIQ

Launched in 2018 for a period of 10 years and with EUR 1 billion in funding, the Quantum Flagship programme is one of the European Commission’s largest initiatives. Its goals include the development of a competitive European quantum technology industry, and establishing Europe as a dynamic and attractive region for quantum research.

The AIT-led project UNIQORN (Affordable Quantum Communication for Everyone: Revolutionizing the Quantum Ecosystem from Fabrication to Application) involves 17 partners from across Europe. It focuses on pioneering, user-focused research using photonic technologies to miniaturise quantum applications and create system-on-chip solutions. The aim is to optimise the costs of quantum technologies, making them available to the general public. Using specialised quantum-optical sources, miniaturised QKD transmission units and detector technologies on mainstream fabrication platforms, the project will provide important stimuli and breakthroughs, particularly for generating true random numbers, and thus for highly-secure key distribution.

Research in the CiVIQ project focuses on the cost-efficient integration of quantum communication technologies in emerging optical telecommunication networks. A total of 21 partners, including leading telecom companies, integrators and QKD developers, are working to develop state-of-the-art flexible and cost-efficient systems for quantum key distribution (QKD), as well as novel quantum cryptography systems and protocols. In future, it should be possible to provide consumers, industry and institutions with innovative services which meet the needs of a secure telecommunications market. In this project, AIT is developing QKD prototypes and specialised software for field use.

QUARTZ: quantum cryptography via satellite

Since 2018 AIT has played a significant role in a consortium coordinated by SES, the world’s leading satellite operator, which is using quantum encryption to develop a satellite-based cybersecurity system. The QUARTZ (Quantum Cryptography Telecommunication System) project is supported by the European Space Agency (ESA). In addition to AIT and project coordinator SES, the QUARTZ consortium comprises a further 8 prestigious research institutions, universities and companies. Together, they will work until 2021 to design solutions for the distribution of secure keys between optical terrestrial ground stations, each connected to a quantum-enabled satellite via quantum links, and to develop the first software and hardware components this requires. Unlimited satellite coverage will help overcome the limits of today’s fibre-based QKD systems, which are only able to transmit over a range of a few hundred kilometres, while also providing a globally available cybersecurity system, including networks in geographically dispersed areas.

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