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Quantum crypto hits the market

14 Nov 2003

A US start-up claims to have launched the world’s first commercial quantum cryptography system.

A US start-up claims to have launched the world’s first commercial quantum cryptography (QC) system for making optical communication networks secure. What’s more with an alleged range of 120 km it seems that the firm has beaten the record for single-photon transmission in the process.

MagiQ says that it is now selling its Navajo Secure Gateway for a price that starts at $50,000 per endpoint. According to the firm’s Andy Hammond, it has already sold more than 20 boxes which (if Optics.org’s math is correct) equates to revenues of at least $1m.

The start-up was founded in 1999 with $6.9m in angel funding and now has 22 staff at its headquarters in New York and a research lab in Massachusetts.

“If the price tag is as low as $50K then this is an extraordinary feat,” said John Rarity an expert in quantum cryptography at the University of Bristol, UK. “This would bring the system into price competition with present key distribution systems.”

The MagiQ system is designed to protect virtual private networks (VPS) that are used to connect financial institutions, government offices or military sites, for example. It operates at telecom wavelengths over standard fiber and is compatible with data rates of up to 1 Gbit/s and wavelength division multiplexing (WDM). The idea is that the laws of quantum physics are exploited to give a communication link that is guaranteed to be completely secure.

Navajo relies on a protocol known as BB-84 which was invented by researchers at IBM in 1984. It uses a stream of single photons to transfer a cryptographic key between two parties. The parties then use the key to encode their data transmissions. The quantum nature of single photons means that any attempt to eavesdrop on the link and discover the key is automatically apparent.

According to MagiQ’s datasheets, the key may be refreshed up to 100 times a second and is used to perform industry standard encryption schemes such as 3DES and AES.

MagiQ says that Navajo allows secure key exchange over up to 120 km of optical fiber-- the longest distance reported to date. Earlier in the year, Toshiba of Japan reported that it had reached the 100 km mark and Swiss scientists demonstrated 67 km a few years ago.

In fact, it may not be long before other companies introduce competing QC systems on the market. idQuantique a Swiss start-up based on research carried out at the University of Geneva is also active in the area. It is already selling single photon detectors and random number generators, two of the essential parts that are needed for a QC system. Last month the firm signed a partnership with two E-security firms, WISeKey and OISTE, to develop a commercial system.

Author
Oliver Graydon is editor of Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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