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CiViQ: working towards implementing quantum communications on our networks

Projets européens H2020End 2018, the CiViQ H2020 European project was launched for a period of three years. The project aims to integrate quantum communication technologies into traditional telecommunication networks. This scientific challenge calls upon Télécom Paris’ dual expertise in both quantum cryptography and optical telecommunication, and will provide more security for communications. Romain Alléaume, a researcher in quantum information, is a member of CiViQ. He explained to us the challenges and context of the project.


What is the main objective of the CiViQ project?

Romain Alléaume: The main objective of the project is to make quantum communications technologies and, in particular, consistent quantum communications, much better adapted for use on a fiber-optic communications system. To do this, we want to improve the integration, miniaturization, and interoperability of these quantum communication technologies.

Why do you want to integrate quantum communications into telecommunication networks?

RA: Quantum communications are particularly resistant to interception because they are typically based on the exchange of light pulses containing very few photons.  On such a minuscule scale, any attempt to eavesdrop on the communications and therefore measure them will come up against the fundamental principles of quantum physics. These principles guarantee that the system will disrupt communications sufficiently for the spy to be detected.

Based on this idea, it is possible to develop protocols called Quantum Key Distribution, or QKD. These protocols allow a secret encryption key to be shared with the help of quantum communication.  Unlike in mathematical cryptography, a key exchange through QKD cannot be recorded and therefore cannot be deciphered later on. Thus, QKD offers what is called “everlasting security”. This means that the security will last no matter what the calculating power of the potential attacker.

What will this project mean for the implementation of quantum communications in Europe?

RA: The European Community has launched a large program dedicated to quantum technologies which will run for 10years, called the Quantum Technology Flagship. The aim of the flagship is to accelerate technological development and convert research in these fields into technological innovation.  The CiViQ project is one of the projects chosen for the first stage of this program.  For the first time in a quantum communications project, several telecommunications operators are also taking part: Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Telefonica. So it is an extensive project in the technological development of coherent quantum communications, with research ranging from cointegration with classic forms of communication, to photonic integration. Although CiViQ has to allow the implementation of quantum cryptography on a very large scale, it must also outline the prospects for a universal use of communications. This reinforces security of critical infrastructures by relying on the networks’ physical layer.

What are the technological and scientific challenges which you face?

RA: One of the biggest challenges we face is merging classical optical communications and quantum communications.  In particular, we must work on implementing them jointly on the same optical fiber, using similar, if not identical, equipment.  To do that, we are calling on Télécom ParisTech’s diverse expertise.  I am working with Cédric Ware and Yves Jaouen, specialists in optical telecommunications.   The collaboration allows us to combine our expertise in quantum cryptography and optic networks.  We use a state-of-the-art experimental platform to study classical-quantum conversion in optic communications.

More broadly, how does the project reflect the work of other European projects that you are carrying out in quantum communications?

RA: As well as CiViQ, we are taking part in the OpenQKD project. This is also part of the Quantum Technology Flagship.  The project involves pilot implementations of QKD, with the prospect of Europe developing a quantum communications infrastructure within 10 to 15 years’ time. I am also part of a standardization activity in quantum cryptography, working with the ETSI QKS-Industry Standardization Group. With them, I mainly work on issues such as the cryptographic assessment and certification of QKD technology.

How long have you been involved in developing these technologies?

RA: Télécom Paris has been involved in European research in quantum cryptography and communications for 15 years. In particular, this was through implementing the first European network as part of the SECOQC project, which ran from 2004-2018. We have also taken part in the FP7 Q-CERT project, which focuses on the security of implementing quantum cryptography. More recently, the school has partnered with the Q-CALL H2020 project which focuses on the industrial development of quantum communications. As well as this, the project is working on a possible “quantum internet” in the future. This relies on using quantum communications from start to finish, which is made possible by the increase in the reliability of quantum memories.

In parallel, my colleagues who specialize in optic telecommunications have been developing world-class expertise in coherent optical communications for around a decade.  With this type of communications, CiViQ aims to integrate quantum communications, by relying on the fact that the two techniques are based on the same common signal processing techniques.

What will be the outcomes of the CiViQ project?

RA: We predict that there will be key contributions made to experimental laboratory demonstration of the convergence of quantum and classical communications, with a level of integration that has not yet been achieved.  A collaboration with Orange is also planned, which will involve issues regarding wavelength-division multiplexing. The technology will then be demonstrated between the future Télécom Paris site in Palaiseau, and Orange Labs in Châtillon.

Finally, we predict theoretical contributions to new quantum cryptography protocols, techniques involving proofs of security and the certification of QKD technology, which will have an impact on standardization.

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