€10m plan to build a quantum security ecosystem in Ireland

Quantum technology experts gathered in Waterford to future proof the EU communications infrastructure.

Ireland and the EU are jointly funding a €10m research project to trial 16 quantum security technologies over the next two years.

The Quantum Communications Infrastructure Programme held its first face-to-face meeting at the Walton Institute in Waterford this week with industry leaders and researchers to pool their expertise and resources to significantly improve the security and efficiency of everything from medical devices to phones to the internet of things.

“It allows us to build a local and regional quantum technology ecosystem in Ireland, feeding into the wider EU communications infrastructure”

The project team on the €10m Ireland Quantum Communications Infrastructure (QCI) programme, jointly funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and the EU, will trial 16 quantum security technology scenarios with key stakeholders across our public, industry and academic sectors over the next two years as part of the Irish tranche of the EU-wide EuroQCI programme.

 National Quantum Communication Infrastructure

IrelandQCI, the ‘Building a National Quantum Communication Infrastructure for Ireland’ project incorporates integrating innovative and secure quantum devices and systems into conventional communication infrastructures. They will do this by enhancing ESB Telecoms’ optical fibre network with an additional layer of security, all based on quantum physics, in particular quantum key distribution (QKD).

Waterford’s Walton Institute, in South East Technological University (SETU), is leading the €10 million IrelandQCI project, on behalf of SFI CONNECT, within the EU-wide Quantum Communications Infrastructure (EuroQCI) programme. IrelandQCI Project Lead and SFI CONNECT PI, Dr. Deirdre Kilbane, Director of Research at Walton Institute, said having the key partners and industry leaders in one room to brainstorm and network is crucial and looks forward to a very productive two plus years ahead.

“The IrelandQCI project will advance quantum communications devices to secure the transfer of personal information against cybersecurity attacks. It allows us to build a local and regional quantum technology ecosystem in Ireland, feeding into the wider EU communications infrastructure. This is an exciting time for Waterford and the south east region to be playing such a key role in ensuring the security of data and communications in Ireland.”

The other key partners include specialists in quantum technologies in Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork’s Tyndall National Institute, with support from University College Dublin (UCD) and Maynooth University (MU). All are member institutions of SFI CONNECT. Other participants in IrelandQCI include the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (University of Galway), as well as HEAnet and ESB Telecoms.

The IrelandQCI team will create an innovative quantum technology ecosystem in Ireland where they can develop and test devices in the quantum network. They plan to educate key stakeholders and the general public about the importance and relevance of quantum technology to our everyday lives and build the quantum workforce in Ireland to future-proof our networks through a series of lectures, training, workshops and visits to quantum technology laboratories.

The ultimate aim of Ireland QCI is to ensure our communications infrastructure is secure and future-proofed against the rising threat of cyber-attacks similar to the HSE hack that crippled and showcased the vulnerability of trusted systems.

“IrelandQCI is a landmark initiative that will put Ireland at the forefront of quantum communications research and innovation in Europe,” said Professor Dan 2Kilper, SFI CONNECT Director and Professor for Future Communications at Trinity College Dublin.

IrelandQCI is a landmark initiative that will put Ireland at the forefront of quantum At SFI CONNECT, we are proud to lead this project through which we will deploy the first quantum network across Ireland as part of the EuroQCI project, providing a platform for research and education in quantum technologies, as well as fostering collaboration and innovation among public and private stakeholders. IrelandQCI is a great example of how Ireland can leverage its strengths in science, technology, and engineering to contribute to the global quantum revolution.”

The IrelandQCI team will establish Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) infrastructure along a major network backbone from Dublin to Cork via Waterford using a quantum channel integrated with existing classical fibre systems. QKD is a secure communication method for exchanging encryption keys known between shared parties alone. The communication method uses properties of quantum physics to exchange cryptographic keys in such a way that is provable and guarantees security.

The 30 month-long project is timely as the security of current encryption technologies relies on computational hardness assumptions – assumptions about how hard it would be to decrypt messages without a key. In the future, advances in quantum computing, combined with ever more sophisticated attacks from different sources, could put at risk the security of the telecom and data communication networks we rely on across healthcare, government agencies, banking, the transport industry, commerce and more.

Prof Peter O’Brien, Head of Packaging and Systems Integration at the Tyndall Institute, said: “Ireland QCI provides our research team at Tyndall with a unique opportunity to collaborate with national experts in quantum technologies. These partnerships ensure we can deliver breakthrough integrated photonic systems and advanced packaging services, accelerating the transition from research in quantum technologies to future commercialisation.”

Main image at top: IrelandQCI Project Lead Dr Deirdre Kilbane pictured at the IrelandQCI opening meeting in Waterford with Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications Ossian Smyth, TD, and Trinity College Dublin Professor of Future Communications Networks Prof Dan Kilper. Photo: Patrick Browne

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.