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India Successfully Tests Quantum Key Distribution Technology

Scientists from the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi (IIT-Delhi) have successfully demonstrated their quantum key distribution (QKD) technology between the cities of Prayagraj and Vindhyachal in Uttar Pradesh, over more than 100 kilometres. QKD is primarily a mechanism to secure communication and it utilises a cryptographic protocol involving various components of quantum mechanics. It allows two groups to produce a shared random secret key known only to them that can be used to encrypt and decrypt messages.

A press statement from the Ministry of Defence explained that the technological breakthrough was achieved over a commercial-grade optical fibre that was already available in the field. With this success, the country has demonstrated indigenous technology of secure key transfer for assisting military-grade communication security key hierarchy. Upon measuring the performance parameters, they found that the results were within the reported international standards as sifted key rates of up to 10KHz. This technology will enable security agencies to plan a suitable quantum communication network with an indigenous technology backbone.

DRDO had first tested the QKD technology in its December 2020 trials between two DRDO labs, the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL) and the Research Centre Imarat (RCI), over a distance of 12 kilometres. Secure communications are vital for defence and strategic agencies across the globe and the distribution of encryption keys is a crucial factor. The sharing of keys over the air or wired links requires encryption, which in turn requires encryption keys to be pre-shared. Quantum-based communication offers a robust solution to sharing the keys securely. DRDO has undertaken multiple projects for the development of this technology.

DRDO scientists have said that the work being done on QKD technology at the organisation will be used to enable start-ups and small and medium enterprises in the domain of quantum information technologies. The technology is expected to help define standards and formulate crypto technology-related policies that can use the QKD system in a unified Cipher Policy Committee (CPC) framework in the country for more secure “key management” for current and future military cryptographic systems, according to a report.

The adoption of quantum technologies across industries has the potential to add US$280-US$310 billion of value to the Indian economy by 2030, as per a recent report. The uptake by enterprises is also expected to go up by 45%, and in India, sectors such as manufacturing, high-tech, banking, and defence will likely lead the charge of adopting quantum technologies for critical and large-scale use cases.

The quantum ecosystem in India is growing at an accelerated pace with 10-15 government agencies, 20-30 service providers, 15-20 startups, and 40-50 academic institutions active in this domain. Of around 100 quantum projects initiated in India, about 92% are government-sponsored. The growth of cloud hyperscalers is also making quantum technology more accessible on the cloud. In India, enterprise adoption of quantum computing technology stands at around 1-2%. This could go up to 35-45% over a decade.

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