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EuroQCI (European Quantum Communication Infrastructure) Initiative

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The EuroQCI initiative aims to build a secure quantum communication infrastructure that will span the whole EU, including its overseas territories. 1)

Since June 2019, all 27 EU Member States have signed the European Quantum Communication Infrastructure (EuroQCI) Declaration, signalling their commitment to the EuroQCI initiative.

The participating countries are working with the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) to design, develop and deploy the EuroQCI. The aim is for it to be fully operational by 2027.

The EuroQCI will safeguard sensitive data and critical infrastructures by integrating quantum-based systems into existing communication infrastructures, providing an additional security layer based on quantum physics. It will reinforce the protection of Europe’s governmental institutions, their data centres, hospitals, energy grids, and more, becoming one of the main pillars of the EU’s new Cybersecurity Strategy for the coming decades.

Developing the technologies needed to make the EuroQCI a reality will serve to boost Europe’s scientific and technological capabilities in cybersecurity and quantum technologies. It will also improve Europe’s digital sovereignty and industrial competitiveness.

The EuroQCI will include a terrestrial segment relying on fibre communications networks linking strategic sites at national and cross-border level, and a space segment based on satellites. It will link national quantum communication networks across the EU and provide global coverage.

Towards an operational EuroQCI

Work on the EuroQCI is already underway, coordinated by the Commission in the case of the terrestrial segment, and ESA in the case of the space segment. This includes the first steps towards operational quantum key distribution (QKD) services, a highly secure form of encryption, building on the activities of the Horizon 2020 OPENQKD project.

In parallel, the participating countries are starting to design and construct national quantum communication networks. They are also starting to plan cross-border links to other networks that will operate at ground level and in space.

The EuroQCI will make use of innovative quantum communication technologies developed by the researchers of the EU-funded Quantum Technologies Flagship. The involvement of European industry partners and SMEs is also crucial to ensure that the critical components of EuroQCI are based on European technologies.

The EuroQCI initiative is expected to contribute to the creation of a truly European quantum ecosystem, building on the achievements of researchers in this domain and strengthening the EU’s technological competitiveness.

Funding for the EuroQCI is being provided by the Digital Europe programme and the Connecting Europe Facility, as well as Horizon Europe, ESA, and national funds, including the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

In 2021-2022, the Digital Europe programme will fund support for:

• the development of European QKD (Quantum Key Distribution) devices and systems

• the development and deployment of national quantum communication networks

• a testing and certification infrastructure for QKD devices, technologies and systems that will ultimately be used in the EuroQCI.

In 2022-2023, the Connecting Europe Facility will fund support for cross-border links between national quantum communication networks, along with links between the EuroQCI’s earth and space segments.

Figure 1: Introducing the DIGITAL Europe Programme. The Digital Europe Programme (DIGITAL) is a new EU funding programme focused on bringing digital technology to businesses, citizens and public administrations (video credit: EC)




Development status

• January 26, 2022: The European Commission will unveil the architecture for its proposed satellite broadband constellation “in a few weeks,” the European Union commissioner in charge of space policy said Jan. 25. 2) 3)

EuroQCI_Auto0

Figure 2: EU Commissioner Thierry Breton addresses the 14th European Space Conference in Brussels (25-26 January 2022) image credit: Webcast from the European Space Conference, organized by Business Bridge Europe)

- Thierry Breton told the 14th European Space Conference in Brussels that he will also present a legislative proposal for the project in the coming weeks, which would enable Europe to start searching for partners to create the sovereign multi-orbit network.

- “Once presented, I count on the Member States and the European Parliament to move fast, so we can hopefully conclude in a year of time the negotiation and have the first services deployed already by 2024,” he said.

- “I know it is ambitious, but I know that it is also feasible.”

- He said Europe’s space-based connectivity infrastructure “will reduce European dependencies on non-European commercial initiatives under development,” as Starlink of the U.S. and U.K.-based OneWeb expand their broadband megaconstellations.

- The legislation must still be adopted by the European Parliament and approved by two-thirds of the European Union’s 27 member states.

The architecture

- Breton said the feasibility of the constellation’s architecture had been tested through studies with established space companies and startups over the past year.

- While finer details of the planned network will soon be announced during a news conference, Breton stressed the importance of governmental and commercial services.

- “It should integrate from the start the military usage and needs,” he added.

- “Using [low Earth orbit] satellites, it opens up several fields of interest in this perspective.”

- Breton said the network aims to “provide high-speed internet access for all Europeans” but will “also provide Africa with the necessary connectivity, offering a European alternative” to other satellite networks.

- Europe’s multi-orbit constellation plans will also leverage quantum encryption to secure the network.

- “The other regions of the world are initiating it; Europe cannot lag behind on this technological dimension, which will condition the cybersecurity of tomorrow,” Breton said.

- Europe awarded an Airbus-led group a 15-month contract in May 2021 to study a quantum technology-powered network for Europe called EuroQCI.

- Airbus is also part of the industry consortium of European satellite makers, operators, service and launch providers that has been helping devise space-based connectivity infrastructure for the EU. The other members are Arianespace, Eutelsat, Hispasat, OHB, Orange, SES, Telespazio and Thales Alenia Space.

- Additionally, the EU awarded two groups of mostly early-stage space companies study contracts in December for the sovereign network: New Symphonie and UN:IO.

- New Symphonie is led by market intelligence firm Euroconsult and satellite surveillance startup UnseenLabs — both based in France.

- Three German ventures are leading UN:IO: satellite maker Reflex Aerospace, launch provider Isar Aerospace and laser specialist Mynaric.

- UN: IO plans include a first demonstrator as early as 2023, followed by more than 400 laser-linked satellites to give Europe a fully operational network by 2025.

Space traffic

- Breton said he also expects to unveil a strategy for space traffic management (STM) “in the coming weeks,” which will aim to strengthen Europe’s capabilities amid increasingly crowded orbits.

- He said the European Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) system could currently monitor more than 240 satellites, including those in Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation and the Copernicus Earth observation program, in real-time to protect them against collision risks.

- However, “faced with the challenges of the multiplication of threats,” he said Europe “must go further and define a holistic” approach for STM.

- He said this includes reducing Europe’s “dependencies on the American systems while ensuring, of course, interoperability.”

• January 12, 2022: The Commission has launched the first calls for proposals under the digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF Digital) programme. 4)

- With a planned budget of €258 million, the calls aim to improve digital connectivity infrastructures, in particular Gigabit and 5G networks, across the Union, and contribute to Europe's digital transformation.

- The Commission will co-fund actions aiming to equip Europe's main transport routes and providers of key services in local communities with 5G connectivity, as well as actions to deploy or upgrade backbone networks based on advanced technologies.

- The Commission will co-fund actions aiming to equip Europe's main transport routes and providers of key services in local communities with 5G connectivity, as well as actions to deploy or upgrade backbone networks based on advanced technologies.

- The calls will also focus on infrastructure connecting federated cloud services, backbone infrastructures for digital global gateways, such as submarine cables, as well as preparatory actions to set up operational digital platforms for transport and energy infrastructures across the EU. This follows the adoption of the first Work Programme for the CEF Digital in December 2021 that earmarked more than €1 billion in funding for the period 2021-2023.

- CEF Digital calls are mainly open to entities, including joint ventures, established in Member States and overseas countries or territories. Interested applicants can learn more about the application, the evaluation and the award processes at the online info day that will take place on 19 January. The second generation of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF-2 programme) “Digital” strand (2021-2027) builds on the previous one, which supported cross-border digital infrastructures and services, as well as free internet access for local communities through the WiFi4EU initiative from 2014-2020.

Figure 3: The WiFi4EU initiative promotes free access to Wi-Fi connectivity for citizens in public spaces including parks, squares, public buildings, libraries, health centres and museums in municipalities throughout Europe. The WiFi4EU initiative provides municipalities with the opportunity to apply for vouchers to the value EUR 15 000. The vouchers are to be used to install Wi-Fi equipment in public spaces that are not already equipped with a free Wi-Fi hotspot (video credit: WiFi4EU)

• December 16, 2021: The Commission adopted today the first Work Programme for the digital part of the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF Digital), which defines the scope and objectives of the EU-supported actions needed to improve Europe's digital connectivity infrastructures for 3 years. These actions will receive more than €1 billion in funding (2021-2023). 5)

- By fostering public and private investments, CEF Digital will contribute to connectivity projects of common EU interest and to the deployment of safe, secure and sustainable high-performance infrastructure, including Gigabit and 5G networks across the EU. Improving Europe's connectivity infrastructure will be fundamental for achieving Europe's digital transformation, as outlined in the ‘Path to the Digital Decade', and for ensuring that all EU households have gigabit connectivity and all populated areas are covered by 5G by 2030.

- Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age, said: “Investing in cross-border connectivity will continue playing a key role in Europe's transformation and its competitiveness. Improving networks and infrastructure will ensure Europe's citizens and businesses can access new jobs, compete on new markets and strengthen their operations.”

- Thierry Breton, Commissioner for the Internal Market, added: “Secure and fast connectivity is the pillar on which we will build Europe's Digital Decade. It will give Europeans access to digital skills, let businesses innovate and support the availability of unprecedented applications in fields such as health, education and online public services.”

- The Connecting Europe Facility funding programme will also strengthen connectivity networks by supporting new or improving existing backbone infrastructures in the EU and with third countries. This is essential for the interconnection of digital capacities, such as cloud, data and computing, which fit into the EU's ambition to remain digitally sovereign.

CEF Digital

- CEF Digital is expected to support the following key actions:

a) The deployment of 5G infrastructures in Europe, in particular 5G coverage along cross-border corridors and 5G for smart communities.

b) The deployment of new or significant upgrade of existing backbone networks, including cloud federations, ultra-secure quantum communication infrastructures and submarine cables, to improve the performance of the electronic communications networks within and between Member States and between the Union and third countries.

c) The implementation of digital connectivity infrastructures related to cross-border projects in the areas of transport or energy and/or supporting operational digital platforms directly associated to transport or energy infrastructures.

Next Steps

- The first calls for the Connecting Europe Facility Digital will be launched in early January 2022. Interested stakeholders will also be able to attend an ‘info day' soon after the launch, to find out more about the priorities and main aspects of the calls, as well as the evaluation and award process.

Background

- With a planned budget of up to €2 billion until 2027, the Connecting Europe Facility - Digital will support the digital transformation and Europe's Digital Decade targets for fixed and mobile connectivity. It is part of the Connecting Europe Facility programme, which supports investment in trans-European digital, transport and energy networks, worth €33.7 billion from 2021 to 2027.

- The first generation of the Connecting Europe Facility 2014-2020 improved the infrastructures that connect Member States and brought free Wi-Fi to local communities through the WiFi4EU programme. It also supported the deployment of very-high capacity networks in rural and semi-rural areas across Europe via the Connecting Europe Broadband Fund (CEBF).

• November 17, 2021: The Commission announced this week the first set of calls for proposals under the Digital Europe Programme. This follows the adoption of the work programmes allocating nearly €2 billion for investments aimed to advance on the digital transition. 6)

- The calls are open to businesses, organisations, and public administrations from the EU Member States, as well as entities from other countries associated to the Digital Europe Programme.

- These grants will be targeted towards an investment of over €415 million in cloud to edge infrastructure, data spaces, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum communication infrastructure, in advancing people's digital skills, and projects that promote a safer internet, fight child sexual abuse, and disinformation, until the end of 2022.

- The first call for proposals is also opening for the set-up and deployment of the European Digital Innovation Hub (EDIH) network. These hubs will support private companies, including SMEs (Small and Medium-sized manufacturing Enterprise) and start-ups, and the public sector in their digital transformation.

• November 10, 2021: The Commission has adopted three work programmes for the Digital Europe Programme, outlining the objectives and specific topic areas that will receive a total of €1.98 billion in funding. This first set of work programmes includes strategic investments that will be instrumental in realising the Commission's goals in making this Europe's Digital Decade. The Digital Europe Programme aims to bolster Europe's technological sovereignty and bring digital solutions to market for the benefit of citizens, public administrations, and businesses. 7)

- The main work programme, worth €1.38 billion, will focus on investment in the areas of artificial intelligence (AI), cloud and data spaces, quantum communication infrastructure, advanced digital skills, and the wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society, until the end of 2022. Alongside this main work programme, the Commission published two specific work programmes: the first one focuses on funding in the area of cybersecurity, with a budget of €269 million until the end of 2022; and the second one focuses on the set-up and operation of the network of European Digital Innovation Hubs, with a budget of €329 million, until the end of 2023.

- Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said: “With the Digital Europe Programme, we are building secure and sustainable digital infrastructures. We are also enabling businesses gain better access to data or use solutions powered by artificial intelligence. The programme also invests to ensure that Europeans can get the right skills to actively participate in the labour market. The aim is that everyone in Europe - citizens, businesses and administrations - can benefit from market-ready technological solutions.”

- Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market, said: “This is Europe's Digital Decade. By 2030, data, cloud, edge and quantum computing will drive industrial and societal innovation, creating new business models. The €2 billion investment announced today enables European companies – of all sizes and notably startups – to seize opportunities in fast-growing markets. It will also empower European citizens with the skills needed to thrive in a safe digital environment. This strengthens our technological sovereignty.”

- The main work programme for the Digital Europe Programme will include investments, such as:

a) Deployment of common data spaces (e.g. data spaces for manufacturing, mobility and finance) that will facilitate cross-border data sharing for businesses, including small and medium size businesses (SMEs) and start-ups, and the public sector, as well as the deployment of a federated cloud-to-edge infrastructure and services, i.e. a backbone of digital solutions that will ensure secure data flows;

b) Building of testing and experimentation facilities for AI-based solutions in order to boost the use of trusted AI (including use by SMEs and start-ups) to respond to key societal challenges, including climate change and sustainable healthcare (e.g. deploying AI testing facilities for health and smart cities and communities);

c) Deployment of a secure quantum communication infrastructure for the EU (EuroQCI) that will offer high resilience against cyber-attacks;

d) Set-up and delivery of master courses in key advanced digital technologies to boost digital skills in Europe, including actions such as the Digital Crash Courses for SMEs, as announced in the 2020 Skills Agenda and SME strategy;

e) Set-up, operations and evolving and continuous maintenance of digital services supporting cross border interoperability of solutions in support of the public administrations (e.g. European Digital Identity).

- The work programme on cybersecurity will see investments in building up advanced cybersecurity equipment, tools and data infrastructures. It will fund the development and best use of knowledge and skills related to cybersecurity, promote sharing of best practices and ensure wide deployment of state–of-the-art cybersecurity solutions across the European economy.

- In order to help fulfil its objectives, the Digital Europe Programme will deploy a network of European Digital Innovation Hubs offering access to technology testing and support the digital transformation of private and public organisations all across Europe, including government at national, regional or local level, as appropriate. The European Digital Innovation Hubs will be an important tool in EU policies, in particular the industrial policy and the policy for small and medium businesses and start-ups, to support companies and the public sector in the twin green and digital transitions.

Next Steps

- The first calls for the Digital Europe Programme will be published by the end of November, and more calls will be published in 2022. The work programmes will be implemented mainly through grants and procurement. A few actions, such as the topics under the Destination Earth initiative will be implemented through indirect management, with partner organisations procuring for the necessary developments.

• July 28, 2021: Ireland has now signed the EuroQCI Declaration. This means that all 27 EU Member States have committed to working together alongside the European Commission and the European Space Agency (ESA) to build the EuroQCI — a secure quantum communication infrastructure that will span the whole EU. The EuroQCI will be part of the space-based secure connectivity system currently being planned by the Commission. 8)

- High-performing, secure communications networks are essential for Europe’s businesses, educational institutions and governments, both to enable them to run smoothly every day, and to share information and adapt quickly in times of crisis. The Commission is therefore planning to launch a satellite-based secure connectivity system that will make high-speed broadband available everywhere in Europe to provide reliable, secure and cost-effective connectivity services. It will include the EuroQCI, a quantum communication infrastructure safeguarding the EU’s sensitive communications and data and protecting critical infrastructures.

- The EuroQCI will integrate quantum cryptography and innovative and secure quantum-based systems into conventional communication infrastructures, complementing them with an additional layer of security based on quantum physics. For example, by providing services based on quantum key distribution, a highly secure form of encryption. This will protect data transmission between Europe’s government institutions, municipalities and embassies, as well as key sites such as hospitals and energy grids.

- The EuroQCI will consist of a terrestrial segment, where fibre communication networks link strategic sites at national and cross-border level, and a space segment based on satellites, and linking national quantum communication networks all over the EU and worldwide. The EuroQCI Declaration was launched in June 2019, and since then the participating Member States along with the Commission and the ESA have met regularly to plan the initiative’s implementation. The aim is for it to be fully functional by 2027.

Next steps for the EuroQCI

- In 2021 and 2022, Digital Europe programme and Connecting Europe Facility actions will support the development of national and cross-border quantum communication networks, the development of European devices and systems, and a testing and certification infrastructure to prepare for the use of new technologies in the EuroQCI. Meanwhile, the Commission, participating Member States and the ESA are discussing the development and deployment of the initiative’s space segment.

• June 13, 2019: At the Digital Assembly, 7 Member States agreed to work together to explore how to make available a quantum communication infrastructure in Europe, to boost European capabilities in quantum technologies, cybersecurity and industrial competitiveness. 9)

- At the Digital Assembly today in Bucharest, Romania, representatives of seven EU countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, and Spain) signed a declaration agreeing to explore together, over the next 12 months, how to develop and deploy a quantum communication infrastructure (QCI) across the EU within the next ten years. This infrastructure would enable information and data to be transmitted and stored ultra-securely, and link communication assets all over the EU. It would integrate quantum technologies and systems into conventional communication infrastructures, and consist of two elements: an earth-based component making use of existing fibre communication networks linking strategic sites at national and cross-border level, and a space-based component to cover long distances across the EU and other continents.

- The QCI will help Europe to secure its critical infrastructure and encryption systems against cyber threats, protecting smart energy grids, air traffic control, banks, healthcare facilities and more from hacking. It will also enable data centres to store and exchange information safely, and will preserve the long-term privacy of government data. The long-term plan is for the QCI infrastructure to become the backbone for Europe’s Quantum Internet, connecting quantum computers, simulators and sensors via quantum networks to distribute information and resources securely all over Europe.

- The first service to make use of this new infrastructure will be Quantum Key Distribution (QKD). QKD is an extremely secure form of encryption: it uses the principles of quantum mechanics to provide the sender and recipient of an encrypted message with an intrinsically secure random key in such a way that an attacker cannot eavesdrop or control the system. QKD can secure confidential data, power grids, government communications and digital transactions, even against crypto code-breaking by the quantum computers of the future.

Andrus Ansip, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said:

- All sectors of our economy and society have the potential to benefit from deploying a quantum secure communication infrastructure all over the EU. This infrastructure will be able to secure financial transactions, keep the transmission, protection and long-term storage of sensitive data safe, and ensure the sovereignty of sensitive governmental information. In a world where securing our information online is of the utmost importance, Europe cannot afford to lag behind.

Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Mariya Gabriel, added:

- In the years to come, the way we encrypt and secure our digital systems risks becoming vulnerable to ever more powerful computers, including quantum computers. To preempt this, and to protect our economy and society against cyber-threats, we need to work together at European level to keep our systems secure even as computers get faster. Therefore I am happy to see that today 7 EU countries have signed a declaration regarding the creation of a future quantum communications infrastructure. I am confident that other Member States will join this initiative, which has the potential to become the EU's next major success story.

Additional signatories

- In July 2019, Hungary, Portugal and Poland signed the declaration. At the end of 2019, it was also signed by Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, France, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden and Finland, in early 2020 by the Czech Republic, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark and Romania, in October 2020 by Estonia, and in February 2021 by Latvia, and it was signed by Ireland in July 2021.

Next steps

- The countries signing the QCI declaration have agreed to work both together and with the Commission to prepare an action plan to explore the benefits and feasibility of building the QCI infrastructure. This will cover preliminary studies, the technological options available for developing and deploying QCI all over the EU, the funding required, and the security certification schemes that would be needed for the QCI to deploy technologies that support sensitive applications. It will also focus on the further development of high-quality, competitive European cybersecurity and quantum technologies, and their integration in the QCI, infrastructure, contributing to increasing Europe’s digital autonomy.

Background

- In October 2018, the European Commission launched the first phase of the Quantum Technologies Flagship, a €1 billion, ten-year initiative pooling resources around a commonly agreed science and technology roadmap. Five fields are covered: quantum communication, quantum computing, quantum simulation, quantum metrology and sensing, and the basic science behind quantum technologies.

- In the period 2021-2027, quantum technologies will be supported by the Digital Europe programme, which will develop and reinforce Europe's strategic digital capacities, as well as the Commission’s Horizon Europe programme, contributing to research and space applications.



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2) Jason Rainbow, ”Europe ready to unveil sovereign broadband constellation plan,” SpaceNews, 26 January 2021, URL: https://spacenews.com/
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3) "A New Era for European Space: Turning Vision into Action", 14th European Space Conference, Brussels, Belgium, 25-26 January 2022, URL: https://marine.copernicus.eu
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (herb.kramer@gmx.net).

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