Growing the quantum communications ecosystem in the region requires quantum cryptography over vast distances.
From the secure transmission of sensitive genomic data, to data transfers between critical industrial infrastructure, to the day-to-day exchange of personally-identifiable data in financial and healthcare sectors — digital communications are the lifeblood of critical human enterprise.
Despite the use of advanced cryptographic methods to ensure safe data exchange, the world is at the cusp of an age in which quantum computers that are magnitudes faster than today’s supercomputers will be able to crack the best encryption schemes within practicable timeframes.
In anticipation of the arrival of accessible quantum computing resources, cybercriminals are already stealing (or ‘eavesdropping’) and hoarding sensitive information even when they cannot decrypt it. The idea is that the value of the information will be unleashed in the near future when these threat actors — presumably state-sponsored — will be able to decode the stolen data.
QKD in fiber and soon, satellite communications
Way back in 2003, Toshiba Corporation was already cognizant of the potential of quantum computing and its potential for both innovation and for abuse by the powers that be. The multinational conglomerate spearheaded quantum cryptography research at the Cambridge Research Laboratory and subsequently became the first technology firm to announce Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) capabilities of over 100 kilometers of fiber, and the first to achieve a continuous key rate exceeding 1Mbps in 2010, followed by 10Mbps in 2017. (Read more about Toshiba’s QKD innovations here)
While QKD will keep quantum-empowered cybercriminals and state-sponsored threat actors at bay, the practical challenge is to facilitate such encryption over even longer distances, especially across rural areas. The natural answer to this challenge is satellite communications technology.
In that vein, a Singapore quantum communications firm, SpeQtral, has tapped into Toshiba’s proven terrestrial QKD solution to facilitate transmission of quantum-encrypted data from Singapore to Europe via the upcoming SpeQtral-1 satellite in 2024.
On 16 November 2022, SpeQtral hosted a launch event of Quantum Networks Experience Center (QNEX) to showcase the fruits of its labor with longtime partner Toshiba. The experience center features multimedia exhibits that help laypeople to understand how quantum computing and QKD work, and also houses an actual QKD link between two secure data servers simulating real Sender and Receiver terminals sited far apart on earth. Also, the QNEX exhibits do better at explaining the intricacies of how to apply state-of-the-art technologies to scale down a bulky quantum encryption device to a size small enough to fit into a communications satellite.
Launch event messages
At the QNEX inauguration, the President & CEO of Toshiba Digital Solutions Corporation, Shunsuke Okada, announced: “QNEX is an important initiative that aims to raise awareness and understanding among governments and businesses in the region around how quantum cryptographic solutions can safeguard sensitive data and vulnerable infrastructures against present and future threats. We are happy to be part of this important initiative and look forward to working alongside SpeQtral to grow the QNEX partnership network in Singapore and the Southeast Asia region.”
SpeQtral’s CEO, Lum Chune Yang, noted: “Secure communications are foundational to establishing the complex ‘web of trust’ between buyers, sellers, and intermediaries in the modern digital economy. With this web under threat given advances in both traditional and quantum computing technologies, organizations will have to fundamentally change how they secure their most sensitive data. SpeQtral is on a mission to leverage advances in Quantum Cryptography and satellite technologies to build the world’s first global quantum-safe communication network… QNEX represents both Toshiba and SpeQtral’s commitment to support the awareness and adoption of the technology in Singapore and the broader Southeast Asian region.”
At the diplomatic level, Japan’s Ambassador to Singapore, His Excellency Hiroshi Ishikawa, commented: “Japan has initiated a new national strategy for quantum technology to create growth opportunities and social transformation including solving social issues. Singapore, in particular, is one of the global Innovation hubs. We are proud that SpeQtral and Toshiba will combine Singapore and Japan technologies to build a quantum-secured communication network to deal with security threats. The Japanese government will continue to provide the necessary support to strengthen the Japan-Singapore relationship.”
The QKD road (and satellite reach) ahead
Having invested billions into quantum and quantum cryptography research well before other firms, Toshiba’s 30 illustrious years of effort have now facilitated national research institutions and private startups alike to step out of Proof-of-Concept stages and into practical applications in Singapore and beyond.
Government and financial sectors are most likely to be early adopters of QKD solutions for quantum-safe communications networks. This is evident from the Singapore government’s long-term interest in supporting quantum technologies and quantum industrialization. Also, Singapore is a major global financial hub and offers strong market potential for QKD both in South-east Asia and around the world.
The Guest of Honour for the event, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, Heng Swee Keat, who is also Chairman of the National Research Foundation said:
“Over the last two decades, Singapore has invested in and built up capabilities in quantum technologies. In the coming years, as the use of digital technologies becomes more pervasive, the ability to safeguard and exchange data securely across the world will be even more critical. We will continue to invest in the National Quantum-Safe Network, a national research program that aims to advance quantum-safe communications and develop use cases. At the same time, we are building local and international partnerships. This latest collaboration between SpeQtral and Toshiba brings together the expertise of both parties to enhance the resilience of global and regional communications networks.”
With innovative technologies like QKD and a deep commitment to a greener, better world, Toshiba is working towards more secure and stable data and energy infrastructures in Southeast Asia.