BT lays out its vision of a quantum computing powered future

UK telco group BT says quantum computing is going to bring about profound changes both to telecoms and wider society, and has detailed the projects it is working on in the nascent space.

Andrew Wooden

April 12, 2023

6 Min Read
BT quantum computing

UK telco group BT says quantum computing is going to bring about profound changes both to telecoms and wider society, and has detailed the projects it is working on in the nascent space.

Quantum computing – widely considered to be a step change in computational power that will have significant effects on whatever it touches – is starting to get talked about more and more by all sorts of organisations, and it seems BT is no exception.

In a blog post titled ‘Shaping the UK’s quantum enabled economy’, the telco group today laid out why it thinks the area is going to be so transformative for telcos and wider society besides, and took the opportunity to point out how active it is being in the space. Apparently its ‘World Quantum Day’ this week, which appears to have provide the firm with a reason to wax about its intentions and opinions on the nascent sector.

The post describes the many fingers it has plunged into the quantum pie, such as recently working with Toshiba to launch a commercial trial of a quantum secured metro network, defining the requirements for setting up a quantum enabled data centre, exploring how quantum computers can provide benefits to telecoms functions such as circuit switching, packet routing, signal processing and antenna beam steering, and how ‘quantum timing’ could enable improvements in timing and synchronisation technology for faster networks.

The blog references a £2.5 billion government warchest designed to support quantum technologies in industry and academia, and appears keen to align itself with goals laid out in the ‘National Quantum Strategy.’

“Quantum technologies promise transformational opportunities across computing, communications, sensing and timing,” said Tim Whitley, Managing Director, Research and Network Strategy, BT Group in the blog post. “If we look at quantum computing, it has the potential to solve particular classes of computational problems with an exponential advantage over the fastest supercomputer. This has far-reaching implications for the ability to solve challenges that are currently considered intractable due to their inherent complexity, offering the possibility of major breakthroughs in science, industry, business and everyday life in a multitude of ways. Sectors such as energy, pharmaceutical, finance, telecoms, construction, and civil engineering could be transformed.”

In terms of its own role in the development of quantum computing powered network infrastructure, Whitley adds: “Here at BT Group, our ambition is to be the world’s most trusted connector of people, devices, and machines. To achieve that, we must keep defending our customers’ data and services while exploring new technology opportunities. Quantum technology is therefore significant to our business. And, as the UK’s leading provider of fixed and mobile telecommunications and related secure digital products, solutions and services, BT Group is critical to the Government’s vision for a ‘quantum enabled economy’.

“We know that true innovation springs from brilliant people working together across industry and academia and that the rewards of research can only be reaped when down streamed: when innovation is converted into products and services for customers. We welcome the Government’s direction and investment to enable the commercial viability of quantum technologies.”

Quantum computing has been around in theory for years but real-world applications of it are starting to get reliable enough that they can be used in some industrial or commercial scenarios, and the ramifications of this becoming more widespread do appear to be huge.

This blog from BT says the firm is ‘at the heart of the UK quantum ecosystem’ and you can certainly choose to interpret it highlighting its own efforts in the space, and shoring up its importance to government funded initiatives, as self-serving. But you certainly want a firm as integral to the UK telecoms sector as BT to be taking a good hard look at the technology –  if not for the vague promises of economic advances that it might bring, then for the potential catastrophic consequences of being left behind in the global development of this step-change in computational power.

If you listen to people in the know talk about quantum computing, you often get the sense of a tightrope being walked between promoting it as a great opportunity and warning about an existential threat. For the telecoms industry in particular the most clearly defined application of the technology is unfortunately a negative one – in that a quantum powered hacking systems levelled at networks could completely roll over defences and manipulate, monitor or shut down any network protected by even the best current security.

As such developing quantum-based defences seems to be a focus whenever the subject comes up in the telecoms scenario. While it’s futile to think you can hold back technological development even if there’s cause to say it looks like it could be bringing some heavy aggro with it, if it is possible to develop measures to mitigate the threats in concert with working on the beneficial stuff, that’s no bad thing and it does seem the telecoms sector is going out of its way to at the very least communicate the need for thinking about both.

Contrast that with the other big potentially societal changing bleeding edge tech area – generative AI – and it has to be said you don’t get much of a sense of caution emanating from the firms looking to enrich themselves by being first out the gate with commercialised applications of the tech.

Rapidly improving, sometimes apparently haywire Large Language Model products like Chat GPT are being hurled out into the world at pace, and despite fears they could dissolve three quarters of jobs in the world very quickly, plus the potentially maddening effects a proliferation of deepfakes and misinformation some of them seem almost designed to produce, there hasn’t up until now appeared to be a similar level of impetus by governments or the firms behind cutting edge AI to have a proper think about what happens if the worst fears about all this are realised, or what should be done about it.

On the bright side, there are some signs that might be changing following an open letter signed by tech leaders, but the genie may well already be out of the bottle.

So when it comes to quantum computing, this balance of developing technology with a balance of focus on the benefits and the damaging effects straight off the bat seems sensible and responsible, and while talk is cheap, there are firms in the telco and tech worlds that appear to be putting their money where there mouth is.

For a rundown of the opportunities and threats as IBM and Vodafone see it, check out our recent interview here.


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like