Global Developments

Recently there has been remarkable progress in the deployment of quantum technologies in communication infrastructures, with several quantum key distribution (QKD) networks under construction around the world. In the UK, metropolitan quantum networks have been built by the Quantum Communications Hub in Cambridge and Bristol, connected by a long-distance link via London. Quantum digital signatures were demonstrated in the NICT metro network in Tokyo. Meanwhile in China a 2 000 km backbone connects Beijing and Shanghai, while the Micius satellite will extend QKD to global distances. The current high-level of activity in quantum communications means that there is a pressing need to develop industrial standards for the technology.

Unique Advantages of Quantum Cryptography Interest in quantum cryptography stems from its unique security properties derived directly from the Laws on Nature, rather than assumptions about the difficulty of certain mathematical operations. It will allow networks that are more resilient to technological advances in the future. There is a concern that network communications that are encrypted using conventional public key cryptography may be stored today and decrypted in the future when more powerful processors or new methods of cryptanalysis are available. In contrast, quantum cryptographic protocols should be resilient to all advances in computing and mathematics.

The first applications of quantum cryptography are likely to be those requiring long term secrecy, such as encryption of sensitive government or corporate data or the health records of individuals. Recently demonstrated examples include secure communication of human genome sequences and inter-site data replication in the financial sector. 

The Threat of Quantum Computers

Quantum cryptography will also be secure from a quantum computer. Quantum computers can process the inputs of a calculation in parallel and can therefore solve certain numerical problems much more efficiently than a "classical" processor. We know that a quantum computer can factorise large integers very efficiently. As the factorisation problem is the basis of conventional public key cryptography, this would significantly weaken many of the techniques that we rely on today. As such there is a pressing need to develop cryptography that will remain secure when large scale quantum computers become available. The solution to these new threats is likely to involve a combination of both quantum cryptography and new “quantum-resistant” algorithms, with improved resilience to number crunching by a quantum computer. 

Our Role & Activities

The Need for Industrial Standards

Standards are essential for ensuring the interoperability of equipment and protocols in complex systems, as well as stimulating a supply chain for components, assemblies and applications through the definition of common interfaces. Without standards there would be no global networks for fibre optic and mobile communications, or low-cost consumer electronics based on reliable and widely available components from multiple suppliers. New standards are required to integrate quantum communications into networks and to stimulate its commercialisation.

Several Group Specification documents have been published on QKD Use Cases:

  • Application Interfaces
  • Security Proofs
  • Module Specification
  • Characterization of Components
  • A standard interface to deliver key material to applications
  • Device and communication channel parameters for QKD deployments

ETSI Industry Specification Group (ISG) QKD is now working on various specifications:

  • Protection Profile for QKD systems
  • Protection against Trojan horse attacks in one-way QKD systems
  • Characterization of the optical output of QKD transmitter modules
  • A control interface for SDN (Software Defined Networks)
  • A review of network architecture
  • Application Interface (API) in response to new network developments

QKD has published ETSI White Papers:

The work of the ETSI ISG in QKD is important to enable the future interoperability of the quantum communication networks being deployed around the world. Just as important, it will ensure that quantum cryptography is implemented in a safe manner that mitigates the risk of side channels and active attacks. By defining common interfaces, it will stimulate markets for components, systems and applications.

The membership of the ISG comprises large companies, telecom operators, SMEs, NMIs, government labs and Universities and has representatives from North America, Asia and Europe.

The ISG QKD activity report provides information on latest work of the ISG.


A full list of related specifications in the public domain is accessible via the QKD committee page.