Deploying the first inter-European quantum network

Advanced Quantum Technologies has just published the results of the first public demonstration of an inter-European quantum communication network established, during the G20 meeting in Trieste, by a group of scientists that realized an encrypted communication between Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.

The amount of internet traffic is increasing tremendously every year, as is the number of security breaches and the total number of records exposed per breach. This requires increasingly sophisticated hardening operations to minimize the risks of potential attacks.

Quantum communication is the ultimate physical solution to secure communication for governments, defence, and critical infrastructure. In this scenario, the realization of a worldwide quantum network that guarantees strong safety in communications is of the utmost importance. Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a protocol that can provide unconditionally secure data communication using the laws of quantum physics. Suppose an eavesdropper tries to intercept this key. In that case, they leave a trace that allows the intrusion to be detected and immediate action to be taken against any threat to confidentiality during data exchange.

Europe is equipping itself with an innovative European network for Quantum Communication, EuroQCI, which combines commercial optical fibres with dedicated satellites. EuroQCI will protect sensitive data and critical infrastructures, providing an additional layer of security based on quantum physics. This will improve Europe’s digital sovereignty and industrial competitiveness, becoming one of the main pillars of the EU’s new Cybersecurity Strategy for the coming decades.

In this work, the authors kicked off the EuroQCI initiative by connecting Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia, three different countries, over an in-fibre quantum network. The established network stably connected Trieste to Rijeka via a dedicated 100-km fibre link, and to Ljubljana via a trusted node in Postojna. Finally, the network was used for a public demonstration of QKD at the 2021 G20 Digital Ministers’ Meeting in Trieste.

The reported experimental results, together with the significant interest generated by one of the most important events of international politics, show the maturity of the QKD technology bundle, placing it in the spotlight for consumer applications in the near future.

The network is realized thanks to the University of Trieste, the National Institute of Optics (CNR-INO) and the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), within the framework of the ‘Quantum FVG’ project funded by the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of the University of Ljubljana, Ruđer Bošković Institute and the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Sciences in Zagreb.

The technical implementation was carried out by QTI srl – a spin-off of the CNR-INO and a Telsy participated company – with the support of TIM, Sparkle, Telekom Slovenije, OIV – Digital signals and networks, Stelkom and Lightnet that provided the fibre-optic infrastructure. The quantum communication event was encouraged and supported by the 2021 G20 Presidency, the Italian Ministries MiSE and MAECI.