Some users of China Telecom, one of the three state-owned telecommunications companies of the Chinese government, can now make quantum-encrypted phone calls using special smartphone apps and SIM cards. , according to the carrier’s announcement last week.
This is the latest move by the Chinese government, in demonstrating its commitment to “the quantum of things”, a field like artificial intelligence and 5G, which is slowly becoming part of the process. Sino-American technology competition process.
The service was launched as a pilot program in Anhui Province, where China Telecom said it was hiring “customers with a friendly experience”. To get this new feature, users have to go to a carrier’s telecom store to exchange for a SIM card. It also requires the installation of a company’s “quantum secure call” app, which is currently only available for Android, according to a statement from China Telecom over the weekend. The company did not disclose service prices for this new feature.
Unlike traditional encryption methods that rely solely on algorithms, quantum encryption is protected by the laws of quantum physics. In theory, all the information scrambled by traditional encryption algorithms could be cracked by a computer if given enough time. But quantum cryptography is different, since any attempt to intercept the data causes a physical change in the message, alerting the sender and receiver of the possibility of being eavesdropped.
For users of this new service, initiating a quantum phone call will generate two secret keys using quantum information technology. They are used to verify the identity of the caller and the information of the call, ensuring end-to-end encryption.
According to Gao Chengshi, a crypto expert and founding partner of blockchain developer Shanghai Hashvalue Information Technology, the current technology using asymmetric cryptography for identity verification is easier to develop than quantum encryption. and safe enough to meet current market demand. However, super-fast quantum computers can easily circumvent such encryption schemes and could threaten existing technologies.
“The advancement of quantum technology will disrupt the security of asymmetric ciphers”, Gao said. “As quantum computation gets to a higher level and more practical, quantum must be used for coding.”
China Telecom said the new service will first be made available to users in areas that require “absolute security” such as governments, the military and financial institutions. It will expand to civilian use in the future, the company added.
The service was developed by a joint venture founded last November by China Telecom and quantum telecommunications company QuantumCTek Group. Liu Guiqing, chief executive officer at China Telecom, said the company aims to provide quantum secure calls to more than 10 million mobile users within five years.
The companies also said they will be rolling out special phones with quantum encryption features, which are in development, according to a January 1 report from Jiemian, a company representative who does not provide any. Provide more details.
Although quantum cryptography has been around for many years, it still has practical limitations such as transmission distance. In recent years, China has become a leader in widening the distance of data sent using quantum key distribution.
In June 2020, a team of Chinese researchers successfully transmitted a quantum encryption key simultaneously to two ground stations in China more than 1,120km apart. China has also built the world’s first quantum satellite and the longest quantum communications network for limited uses in a number of key areas.
But as advances in quantum computing continue to grow, some of today’s most widely used forms of encryption could also be threatened. Quantum computers can break existing coding methods as quickly as … baking a piece of bread.
Last year, a group of Chinese scientists set a record with the Jiuzhang quantum computer, calculating in 200 seconds for a problem that could make China’s Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer – the fourth fastest computer in the world. gender – it took 2.5 billion years to complete.
And in this cryptographic game like cat-and-mouse, researchers are now looking to improve encryption schemes that are resistant to quantum computer attacks.
Other countries are also looking to take the top spots in quantum science and technology, with the US, the European Union and the UK all announcing their own plans in recent years.
Other big companies are also making use of quantum technology in telephones and telecommunications. Samsung released its 5G smartphone last May that included a quantum randomization chipset as an additional layer of security. British BT Group and Toshiba’s European subsidiary also announced in October last year the deployment of a 6-kilometer-long quantum secure network between two local research institutes.
In China, the quantum telecommunications market size is 32.5 billion yuan (about $ 5 billion) in 2019, nearly 20% higher than the previous year, according to the country’s Qianzhan Industrial Research Institute. .