Quantum: What does it mean for telecoms?

Executive Briefing Service

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Quantum technology is developing fast and government policy announcements are increasing. There are opportunities, and risks, for the telco sector, and you do not need to be a quantum physicist to learn what it all means.

Preparing telcos for the quantum era

The term “quantum” is going to be increasingly bandied around in board rooms and back offices in the second half of 2024 and into 2025, with the United States’ National Institute of Standards and Technology preparing to make a decision about international post quantum cryptography (PQC) standards. These will replace today’s commonly used cryptography with new versions that will continue to protect digital information from attacks enabled by quantum technology. However, “quantum” refers to more than just expensive, super-cooled computing equipment that can crack the mathematics underpinning modern cybersecurity. Researchers have found ways to harness atomic-scale physics to bring about ultra-sensitive sensors, create untappable communications channels, and simulate complex molecular interactions. This new technology will inevitably bring about new opportunities and risks for the telecommunications sector.

Telcos will need to invest in PQC and in mitigating the threats from quantum technology, manage the related regulatory pressures and government policies, and ensure network and infrastructure architectures are compatible. However, there are opportunities to begin skilling-up staff ahead of technology readiness and a predictable spike in demand for skilled talent, to demonstrate industry leadership, introduce products that service the needs of early PQC markets, and market the internal adoption of quantum technology. Telecommunications executives should read this report to better understand the concepts and changes that are coming, enabling them to make informed decisions in the forthcoming 12 months.

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Quantum sensors and quantum computers work together, with sensors providing data better processed by these computers. In order to connect these sensors with computers, and these computers with each other, there is a need for quantum communications. This is a natural area for the telco sector to be involved in, and involves protecting the nature of information as it is transported. Another fundamental aspect is that quantum information cannot be precisely copied, so transporting such information becomes more complicated, e.g. in building switches and repeaters.

Quantum technologies

Source: STL Partners

Activities in these different quantum technology areas are in varying degrees of maturity, but an immediate concern is the risk of malicious actors capturing encrypted data to decrypt with future quantum computers, known as SNDL attacks. Current cryptographic algorithms could be cracked by a sufficiently large quantum computer. The Global Risk Institute reports most experts believe a common cryptographic key could be cracked within 15 years, with 27% predicting this could happen within 10 years. Organisations with long-term sensitive data need to mitigate this risk.

Telcos are often considered critical infrastructure providers in the markets that they operate, and are trusted to protect the confidentiality of the information carried over their networks and other communications products and platforms. Outside of the telco sector, companies like Apple, Google, and Cloudflare have already begun integrating pre-standard PQC in some of their products. Once PQC has been standardised, which is imminent, examples of PQC integration will accelerate.

Regulators, suppliers and customers can be expected to engage telcos in discussions around how they plan to respond to the advance of quantum technologies, and may also propose joint exercises. With the United Nations declaring that 2025 will be the International Year of Quantum Science and Technology, the topic will get increasing attention over the coming 12 months. This report provides the necessary context to participate in those discussions and understand announcements about this technology from suppliers.

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Quantum computers
    • What types of computer exist?
    • What can computers do?
    • Who is building computers?
    • What is the roadmap for computers?
  • Post quantum cryptography
    • How big a problem is this?
    • How long do we have?
    • Who is helping to solve this?
  • Quantum sensors
    • What can sensors do?
    • Who are the leaders in sensors?
    • What are the next steps in sensors?
  • Quantum communications
    • What are the main use cases for communications?
    • Who are the leaders in communications?
    • What are the next steps for communications?
  • Conclusion
  • Index

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Technologies and industry terms referenced include: , , , , , , , , ,

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott

Senior Associate Analyst

Andrew has over 25 years experience in the telecoms industry. His background includes roles in strategy, product, technology, architecture, and startups. He was previously the head of Telstra Labs, and in that role drove innovation in services across multiple sectors. Over a long career Andrew has developed considerable expertise in topics such as about AI/ML, private 4G/5G networks, drones, AR/VR/mixed reality, IoT, edge computing, and quantum technologies.