Ashwini Vaishnaw, Minister for communications, electronics and information technology, and railways

Quantum communications is a technology that is being actively explored by industry and academia alike in the telecom space. At the First International Quantum Communication Conclave organised by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), Ashwini Vaishnaw, minister for communications, electronics and information technology, and railways, spoke about India’s initiatives in the quantum communications space and the government’s vision to position the country as a leading technology exporter in the world. Edited excerpts from his address…

In recent times, India’s telecom space has emerged as a very vibrant, resolute and forward-looking sector. I congratulate all the researchers, entrepreneurs, practitioners, students and everybody who has contributed to this journey.

Quantum is the new frontier of technology. I will share the vision that the honourable prime minister has for the sector. The prime minister’s vision is that we should take the lead in technology development and export, and not just be a consumer of technology.

I will give a couple of examples. Deve­loping the 4G and 5G technology stacks was considered practically next to impossible. But within a very short time frame of less than three years, world-class 4G and 5G technology stacks have been developed by our own entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers. The good thing is that since we did not have a legacy system, we could start with a blank slate and create a system which, in a sense, is technologically better than the other systems available.

We knew that when we make a claim that we have developed new 4G and 5G technology stacks, the world will generally be sceptical about it. So, while a typical new development is tested for about hundred thousand simultaneous connections, we decided to test our system for 1 million simultaneous connections to begin with. Then, we ramped it up to 5 milli­on simultaneous connections and in Dec­ember 2022, we tested it for 10 million simultaneous connections. The results have been heartening. We sincerely belie­ve that this solution will become really popular all over the world. Over 20 countries have al­ready expressed interest, with people wanting to deploy the system be­cau­se of their trust in products coming from India. People know that our products would have been deployed and tested at scale. That is the advantage that we have.

During 2022, the prime minister gave us the challenge to become a leader in developing 6G technology. The task was not easy. We gathered all the participants in the telecom sector (industry stakeholders, researchers, entrepreneurs as well as students) and set out a roadmap for developing 6G. The initial hiccups were there, but very soon we could put together a very cogent strategy for 6G development. Be­fore we launched it, we decided to see whether the strategy will really work or not and put some challenges before the industry. I am very happy to share that within a time fra­me of less than 14-16 mo­nths, we have been able to develop 127 patents in 6G technology. This is the spirit with which we will work in quantum communications also.

The first set of standards for quantum communications were released in 2022. These were the standards for quantum key distribution (QKD). The second set of standards on post quantum cryptography (PQC) is getting released today.

After the release of the first set of standards, we decided to undertake a small pi­lot test between the Sanchar Bhawan and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) office at the CGO Complex to determine whether a secure quantum communication link could be established between the two points. Now, the first secure quantum com­munication link between Sanchar Bhawan and the NIC CGO Complex is operational. We are now launching a hackathon where anybody who breaks this system developed by the Centre for De­velopment of Telematics (C-DOT) will be given Rs 1 million.

C-DOT is an institution which was created to develop telecom technologies. During the past eight years, it has worked on very advanced cutting-edge technologies. For instance, the core of the 4G and 5G technology stacks has been developed by C-DOT. Currently, we are exploring public-private partnerships where C-DOT develops one of the critical pieces of the entire solution, that is, the core, and then multiple private players, entrepreneurs and academia can join, develop the radio network and add value.

C-DOT has developed QKD and PQC security solutions for communication. These solutions have been demonstrated in the live network and the TEC certification process is also under way. In the same spirit, we will be requesting C-DOT and providing it with more funds and resources for developing indigenous se­cure quantum cryptography protocols. Going forward, the institution will be­come the nodal organisation for developing quantum communications.