HSBC testing quantum-safe financial network in UK.

HSBC, a bank based in London and the eighth-largest bank in the world, will collaborate with Amazon Web Services, BT, and Toshiba to conduct a series of trials and experiments using quantum encryption technology.

HSBC is the first bank to commit to trials on the new quantum “metro” network, which is a secure transaction system that utilizes unbreakable encryption through quantum cryptography to secure transactions.

The quantum metro network, developed by Toshiba in partnership with BT, allows for unconditionally secure transactions between institutions. HSBC will test various use cases on the network, including financial transactions, video calls, and edge computing.

One of the main quantum tech uses that HSBC will experiment with is called “quantum key distribution” (QKD). This allows two parties separated by distance to send information to each other securely.

QKDs are encryption keys generated for both parties simultaneously. Quantum states tend to collapse when measured, making quantum data impenetrable. Any attempt by an external party to view, eavesdrop, intercept, or modify a transaction equipped with QKD would be instantly detectable by both parties.

Related: Researchers demonstrate ‘unconditionally secure’ quantum digital payments

Currently, there are technological limitations on the distance QKDs can be sent. Unlike classical data, which can have its signal strength boosted for long-distance transmission through fiber optics, quantum data cannot be boosted and suffers from exponential loss due to the “noisy” nature of quantum information. This means that the longer the fiber optic network, the less likely quantum data will survive transmission. Although higher-intensity photons theoretically can overcome the current limits, scientists are still in the early stages of developing these solutions.

For example, scientists in China published research in May 2023 demonstrating the successful transmission of QKDs across 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of fiber optic cable, setting a new world record for non-relay QKD.

The HSBC trials on the BT-Toshiba metro network will cover a distance of 62 kilometers (38 miles) of fiber optic cables in England, connecting HSBC’s global headquarters in Canary Wharf to a data center in Berkshire.

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