Principal investigators: Prof. Dr. Kai Mueller (TUM), Prof. Dr. Djamal Zeghlache (IMT)

Short summary and central question:

The foreseeable breakthrough of quantum computers represents a risk for all communication
systems. In order to ensure long-term communication security, quantum secure communication must
be realized, where security is guaranteed by physical principles. Quantum cryptography plays a
critical role in the protection on the quantum era, promising to ensure ultra-secure communication
while supporting crisis resolution, disaster recovery and relief and prevention. Clearly, the use of
quantum technologies to provide protection against attacks and cybercrime is essential. However,
the end-to-end quantum network design able to support quantum key distribution service and
management is yet to be realized. The quantum network is designed as a layered approach, where
the physics, defined in the quantum layer, are used to provide secure keys (key management layer)
for different cryptographic functionalities, monitored by the manager layer and where the
communication routes are establish by the control layer so as to ensure the security and performance
for the different users. Moreover, quantum networks need be designed scalable and it is foreseen to
be able to operate as a commodity in traditional networks (as an additional layer able to provide
differentiated security services).
The goal of the project is to explore the design space of the quantum, control and management planes
of the quantum network so as to ensure a high security and high performance. The quantum layer
(devices and protocols) should be efficient and secure, while the integration with current networks
should be smooth.

Overview of the state-of-the-art

Different demonstrators have proven the security characteristics of the quantum networks. Europe
has committed to the development of such networks to ensure the sovereignty and security of Europe.
Airbus Defence and Space is a major player of such an efforts, currently being responsible of the first
design of the European quantum network (EuroQCI). Nevertheless, there is still a huge design space
to explore. It is expected that European academic/industry efforts are join to pursue this goal.
Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) exploits quantum physics to securely transport secret keys. Such
keys are later on used to preform different cryptographic operations (encrypt, decrypt, sign, verify).
The implementation of such networks include the definition of a quantum, key management,
management and control layers. The state of the art focused mainly on point-to-point link for the
exclusive transport of quantum signals. The integration of the quantum plane in classical networks in
a real-world shared network has not received sufficient attention so far. The goal of our project is to
pursue current work and further develop the quantum layer (so as to improve the performance and
security), while integrating it into classical networks (including a complete management framework).
The latter has to include the four planes needed for smooth integration, that is the quantum
management plane, the control plane, the key management plane, and the underlying quantum
plane. Quantum layer is constantly evolving. It includes different technologies and protocols (prepare
and measure, Measurement device independent, entanglement) that achieve different rates of
performance and security characteristics. Novel materials and devices are now developed so as to
enhance these properties.
There has already been research and design initiatives to develop and produce an SDN based control
plane for quantum communications configuration and control and for integration in existing traditional
networks [1-4]. Despite these efforts, the production of the four planes and the focus on their
coordination and joint management is barely addressed thoroughly. This project, building on previous
experience, from partners, on developing a full blow management system for optical switches and
disaggregated switches [5-9], aims at reproducing the accomplishment for quantum communications
and for control and management of the quantum plane. In [8], a Micro-services Optical Network
Controller Platform (μONCP) that implements the deployment, configuration and control workflows
(thus includes a workflow engine and an orchestrator) of optical switches is reported. The goal in this
new project, here, is to design not only the SDN based control plane but also a management plane
that is capable of realizing zero-touch quantum communications workflows and automatize their
execution in real and operational networks. The issue consequently for this project is to produce the
complete framework and the northbound applications that come along with it to optimize jointly (in
possibly one shot/step) the key distribution, generation, allocation and routing.
I addition, we will address the specification of all interfaces between the four planes and expect to
rely on well-established and partially standardized interfaces: RestFul, OpenConfig, NetConf, Yang
and TAPI as well as rely on those that are quantum plane specific such as QuAI [10]. This interface,
embedded in SDN agents, enables vendor agnostic configuration of QKD devices and provides a
flexible procedure to integrate QKD devices in production networks.
[1] A. Aguado et al., “The Engineering of Software-Defined Quantum Key Distribution Networks,” in IEEE
Communications Magazine, vol. 57, no. 7, pp. 20-26, July 2019.
[2] D. Lopez et al., “Madrid Quantum Communication Infrastructure: a testbed for assessing QKD
technologies into real production networks,” 2021 Optical Fiber Communications Conference and
Exhibition (OFC), 2021, pp. 1-4.
[3] A. Aguado et al, “Enabling Quantum Key Distribution Networks via Software-Defined Networking,” 2020
International Conference on Optical Network Design and Modeling (ONDM), 2020, pp. 1-5
[4] Y. Cao et al, “The Evolution of Quantum Key Distribution Networks: On the Road to the Qinternet,” in
IEEE Communications Surveys & Tutorials, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 839-894, Secondquarter 2022.
[5] Q. P. Van, D. Verchere, et al, “Container-Based Microservices SDN Control Plane for Open
Disaggregated Optical Networks,” 2019 21st International Conference on Transparent Optical
Networks (ICTON), 2019, pp. 1-4.
[6] Q. Pham Van et al, “Demonstration of Container-Based Microservices SDN Control platform for Open
Optical Networks,” Optical Fiber Communications Conference and Exhibition (OFC), 2019, pp. 1-3.
[7] Q. Pham Van et al., “Monitoring Intent for Optical Channel Defragmentation in Software-Defined Elastic
Optical Networks,” International Conference on Transparent Optical Networks (ICTON), 2018, pp. 1-4.
[8] Van-Quan Pham, Cloud-Native Optical Network Automation Platforms, Thesis manuscript, 2022
[9] H. T. Quang, Q. Pham-Van, D. Verchere, H. -T. Thieu and D. Zeghlache, “Demonstration of ML-aided
Impairment-aware L0 Path Computation in Fully Disaggregated Multi-vendor Optical Transport
Networks,” 2021 Optical Fiber Communications Conference and Exhibition (OFC), 2021, pp. 1-3.
[10] R. B. Mendez et al., “Quantum Abstraction Interface: Facilitating Integration of QKD Devices in SDN
Networks,” International Conference on Transparent Optical Networks (ICTON), 2020, pp. 1-4.

Objectives of the project

The objective of the project is to design and integrate quantum communication technologies in current
computer and telecommunications networks using SDN-based control planes augmented with the
appropriate northbound applications. It includes the exploration and design of an efficient and secure
quantum layer together with the design of the orchestrators and quantum management planes
necessary to enable integration of quantum systems in current networks. All of which are required to
foster the integration of quantum networks and systems in current infrastructures. The project will
contribute to the longer term that consists of enabling smooth transition to a technology mix.
More specifically, the project will focus on Airbus use cases and scenarios exploring the use of ultrasecure end-to-end communication based on cryptographic key transport through Quantum Networks.
The project will consequently pay attention and work on quantum keys generation, placement,
scheduling and in summary manage their entire life cycle since the quantum keys are principal
resources in quantum networks.
Beyond typical and current research and investigations that focus on the quantum building blocks,
this project includes all communication and management layers. The project takes into consideration
the following planes: the Quantum Plane itself, the Key Manager (KM) Plane, the Control Plane and
the Management Plane.
The project was structured around this broaden scope that leads to the following tasks, objectives
and research activities:

  1. Define a methodology and method for fast exploration of quantum networks to meet
    performance, security and cost requirements;
  2. Design an efficient control plane that considers and embeds operational needs;
  3. Propose a first concept for a network manager to monitor the health of the quantum system;
  4. Propose a first concept of a secure and efficient quantum key management system

Expected impact on academia, industry and society

From the academic standpoint, addressing the design and integration of quantum technologies in
current networks and designing a control plane that enables an optimal integration will reinforce and
foster the development of skills and known how on quantum networks. Especially increases
knowledge in controlling, configuring and managing these quantum networks in an integration and
transition context from non-quantum networks to a mix of quantum networks with traditional networks
(including optical). From the industrial standpoint quantum networks are simply strategic, critical for
Europe (in our case at least Germany and France) to remain competitive and aim at leading the
emergence of such technologies. From a societal standpoint, quantum networks have the potential
to mitigate and reduce considerably the impact of cybercrime and attacks on citizens and persons,
provide stronger security and protect privacy and assets. Harnessing quantum networks and their
integration into our infrastructure and life is strategic and fundamental for the decades to come. In
addition, European commission already establish critical to develop this technology on Europe so as
to keep competitive and ensure the sovereignty. This project is aligned with this claims.