5G is the latest iteration of cellular technology and will be engineered to increase the speed and responsiveness of wireless networks. There are huge benefits to 5G, some of which have already been realized. The technology was used at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to broadcast live in virtual reality, and South Korea’s top automaker integrated 5G into the infotainment system of their autonomous Nexo SUV, allowing riders to control smart home devices from the road, sing karaoke or stream videos from the back seat.
While progress of this magnitude is intriguing, existing security flaws in mobile networks can easily find their way into 5G networks. These flaws could allow traffic to be eavesdropped, spoofed, or intercepted to reveal location data, contact information, etc. Additionally, the hyper connectivity that 5G enables will exacerbate these issues by increasing the amount of attack vectors.
Fortunately, as technology evolves, so do the means to secure it. In this case, the use of quantum keys – which leverage the fundamental properties of quantum mechanics using photons of light, not prime numbers, to physically transfer a shared secret between two entities – can make 5G communications exponentially more secure. In contrast to current public-key cryptography protocols rooted in mathematical algorithms that can be solved, quantum keys rely on a photon’s multiple quantum states, coupled with its no-change and no-cloning attributes, to prevent keys from being unknowingly interrupted, corrupted, cloned, or exposed during transmission.
In February of 2018, ID Quantique, the Swiss leader in quantum communications, was acquired by South Korea’s SK Telecom to ensure security in the hyper-connected 5G era. This month, SK Telecom introduced its quantum-safe system on Deutsche Telekom’s trial network for live testing, with the ultimate goal of rolling it out to commercial networks in 2019. Meanwhile, Quantum Xchange is bringing the first commercial Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) network to the United States. And, using the same technology as SK Telecom, will generate quantum keys to protect data transfer from end-point to end-point. The company is closely monitoring the expansion to 5G and how it will affect mobile communications, including the recent proposal made to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) by KT and LG Uplus to develop global standards for QKD that will forward quantum-safe technology and secure communications across 5G.