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Vectis features a touch panel display through which users can monitor the system and a Web server application that displays the system’s log information, using Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP v.3), which lets network administrators centrally monitor and manage any quantum encryption hardware appliances throughout their network.

“We automated the whole thing, so a network engineer could do this,” says Gregoire Ribordy, CEO of id Quantique, “not just a physicist.”

In March, rival MagiQ Technologies of New York City reworked its Quantum Private Network, after receiving feedback from government and enterprise customers who’d tested it. The latest version now incorporates high-performance security processors and can run on either Windows or Linux operating systems.

MagiQ Technologies’ CEO Bob Gelfond admits that “really not much has changed on the quantum side,” but the networking and basic distribution and other elements have been tweaked to make it a more usable product that can be integrated into a company’s existing system.

With a more business-friendly interface, MagiQ is in the process of cutting deals with original equipment manufacturers (OEM) that would result in their quantum cryptography products being integrated into hardware from major manufacturers as early as 2006.

While small vendors like MagiQ and id Quantique have already staked a claim in this field, they won’t be alone for long. In May, Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Laboratory in the United Kingdom showed off its recent advance: a quantum cryptography system that can be used to encode real-time video and voice at up to 100 frames, or keys, per second. Its developers believe the technology will make it practical for companies and governments to secure video links over a fiber optic link. 

Dr. Andrew Shields, the group leader in research and development for quantum cryptography at Toshiba Cambridge and head of the project, believes that the system should be on the market in a couple of years. While the encrypted video comes through “a little jumpy” due to the finite frame rates of the camera, says Shields, “it looks pretty good. We have had a very good reaction. People were quite surprised but delighted that these applications are now real.”

In May, researchers at NEC Corp. announced that, with help from the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology and the Japan Science and Technology Agency, they have been able to generate quantum keys faster and for a more sustained length of time than previously possible. The Tokyo-based IT and network giant was able to continuously generate keys at an average 13 kilobits per second (kbps) over a 16-kilometer commercial optical network for two weeks – the kind of performance that ultimately might make the generation and distribution of quantum keys even easier and more seamless for companies.

Kessler of TowerGroup says that NEC has recently “earned numerous patents related to quantum systems,” and he expects the company to release a commercial product within the year.

Kazuo Nakamura, senior manager for NEC’s fundamental and environmental research laboratories, believes his company’s nearly eight years of dedicated research into quantum cryptography will help them leapfrog competitors who are already selling products.

“We believe that our sustained R&D efforts have given NEC a clear technology advantage over [MagiQ and id Quantique],” says Nakamura. “Before the market accepts quantum cryptography, products need to achieve lower system costs, higher stability, and still-faster operation over longer distances.”

Perhaps the most promising quantum cryptography development, though, is BBN’s recent announcement in early June that along with U.K. partner QinetiQ Ltd. it has created a working wireless version of the quantum cryptography network.

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