Using a special SIM card and app, some China Telecom smartphone users in Anhui Province can make phone calls protected by quantum encryption. And the race to develop quantum technology could threaten traditional encryption and lead to new, more secure forms of cryptography.
China Telecom, one of the country’s three state-owned telecommunications giants, has announced a new pilot program allowing smartphone users to make phone calls protected by quantum encryption. Last week, the company announced that some users of China Telecom, one of the country’s three state-owned telecommunications companies, can now make quantum-encrypted phone calls using a special SIM card and a smartphone app.
This is the latest move by China, demonstrating the country’s commitment to all aspects of quantum computing – an area that, like artificial intelligence and 5G, is also very important.,
The service was launched as a pilot program in Anhui Province, where China Telecom said it was gaining “friendly customers.”
To get the new feature, users must visit a regular China Telecom store and change their SIM card. According to a statement from China Telecom last Friday, it also requires the company’s “Quantum Secure Call” app, which is currently only available for Android. The company did not disclose pricing for the new feature.
Unlike traditional encryption methods, which rely solely on algorithms, quantum encryption is protected by the laws of quantum physics. In theory, all information encrypted with traditional encryption algorithms can be hacked by a computer in enough time. Quantum cryptography differs in that any attempt to intercept data will cause a physical change in the message, alerting the sender and recipient of possible eavesdropping.
For users of China Telecom’s new service, launching a quantum phone call will generate two secret keys using quantum information technology. They are used to verify the caller’s identity and call information, providing end-to-end encryption.
According to Gao Chengshi, a cryptography expert and founding partner of blockchain developer Shanghai Hashvalue Information Technology, the current technology that uses asymmetric cryptography to verify identity is easier to develop than quantum encryption, and it is secure enough to meet current market demand. However, ultra-fast quantum computers that can easily crack such encryption schemes could threaten current technologies.
“The development of quantum technology will violate the privacy of asymmetric cryptography,” Gao said. “When quantum computing reaches a higher and more practical level, quantum computing should be used for encryption.”
China Telecom said the new service will first be available to users from certain sectors that need “absolute security,” such as the government, military and financial institutions. The company added that it will be expanded to civilian use in the future.
The service was developed by a joint venture created last November by China Telecom and quantum telecommunications company quantumctek Group. Liu Guiqing, chief executive of China Telecom, said at the time that the company aims to provide quantum call security to more than 10 million mobile users within five years.
The companies also said they will release special phones with quantum encryption features that are already being developed, according to a January 1 report by Chinese media outlet Jiemian, citing a company representative who did not provide additional details.
Although quantum cryptography has been around for many years, there are practical limitations, such as transmission distance. In recent years, China has become a leader in increasing data transmission distance using quantum key distribution.
Other countries are also seeking to take the lead in quantum science and technology, with the US, European Union and UK publishing their own plans in recent years. Companies in other countries are also already using quantum technologies in phones and telecommunications. Last May, Samsung released a 5G smartphone that includes a chipset that generates quantum random numbers as an additional layer of security. British-based BT Group and European-based Toshiba also announced last October the deployment of a 6-kilometer quantum secure network between two local research institutes.
According to the domestic think tank Qianzhan Industry Research Institute, China’s quantum telecommunications market size in 2019 was 32.5 billion yuan (US $ 5 billion), up almost 20 percent from a year earlier.