Chance plays a key role in start-up company's success

R.A. Hettinga rah at
Mon Oct 11 08:09:03 PDT 2004


 IST Results

Chance plays a key role in start-up company's success

Using randomly generated numbers to ensure the security of encryption
applications seems counter-intuitive but is a fundamental part of quantum
cryptography. Pioneering the approach is an award-winning Swiss start-up
company, id Quantique, that launched the world's first commercial quantum
random number generator and quantum cryptography system.

 In fact, numerous applications require random numbers. Besides potential
quantum cryptographic applications, such as bank transfers and e-voting,
further examples include scientific calculations and games involving chance
such as national lotteries. Initially though, id Quantique's products
mainly target demand from customers of high security encryption systems
such as financial, government and military institutions.

 id Quantique was founded in October 2001 as a spin-off from the University
of Geneva by four researchers from the University's Applied Physics
Department - Grigoire Ribordy, Olivier Guinnard, Nicolas Gisin and Hugo
Zbinden. December 2003 marked a milestone in the company's evolution: the
entrepreneurs successfully raised 1 million euros from the Luxemburg-based
i2i venture capital fund in a first round of funding and they concluded a
worldwide exclusivity agreement with the University of Geneva regarding two
important quantum cryptography patents.

 Over a short period of time, the fledgling company and its founders have
won several prestigious prizes. The company was a recipient of the European
Innovation Awards from the Wall Street Journal Europe in 2001; Olivier
Guinnard and Grigoire Ribordy were winners of the de Vigier's prize for
Swiss entrepreneurs in 2002; and this year the company was a winner of the
annual Swiss Technology Award.

 id Quantique supplies three products. Firstly, a physical random number
generator, Quantis, which relies on an elementary quantum optical process -
namely the perfectly random reflection or transmission of a photon, or
light particle, on a semi-transparent mirror - in order to produce binary
random numbers. Next, a quantum key distribution (QKD) system that enables
cryptographic keys, which are required for encrypting and decrypting
information, to be securely transmitted over standard optical fibres
between two parties. Finally, a Single Photon Detection Module (SPDM), id
200, which is a photon counter used in quantum cryptography and other
quantum optical applications.

 In March 2004, id Quantique and the University of Geneva launched the
first ever website offering perfectly random numbers created by the Quantis
generator. Grigoire Ribordy, id Quantique's CEO, remarks, "We launched the website to promote our new quantum random number
generator and to provide a service to the scientific community. In the long
term, we would like it to become the reference point for random numbers."

 Despite the demand for perfectly random numbers, their generation remains
a difficult task. Conventional computers use a rule to produce
pseudo-random numbers, which can sometimes introduce unwanted bias.
"Quantum physics is the only physical theory predicting that the outcome of
certain phenomena is random," emphasises Nicolas Gisin, Professor at the
University of Geneva. "It is thus a natural choice to use it to generate
true random numbers."

 id Quantique is a partner in the IST project SECOQC which began in April
2004 under the Sixth Framework Programme. The project is focused on
evaluating quantum cryptography technology as well as developing standard
specifications for secure global digital communication systems.

 Recently, the project consortium performed the world's first ever bank
transfer using quantum cryptography by sending $3000 over a 1.45 km link
between Vienna City Hall and the headquarters of Bank-Austria
Creditanstalt. "The SECOQC project makes it possible for id Quantique's
engineers to interact with some of the best groups worldwide in the field
of quantum cryptography," observes Ribordy. "And because of the
multidisciplinary nature of this project, it is an extremely enriching
platform to exchange ideas and find new ways to solve problems."

 More recently, id Quantique has teamed up with the Deckpoint, a Swiss
Internet Service Provider, to develop and implement the world's first data
archiving network secured using quantum cryptography. The official opening
of the new archiving network took place on 29 September 2004 in the
presence of Carlo Lamprecht, the Minister of Economy, Labour and Foreign
Affairs of the Republic and Canton of Geneva. Data stored on a farm of 30
servers at Deckpoint Housing Centre, in the middle of Geneva, was backed up
to servers located at the Cern Internet Exchange Point, in the city suburbs
some 10 kms away. "This world premiere is an excellent illustration of the
of the potential of this technology " says Ribordy. "We are convinced that
security has become critical, in particular with the implementation of the
Basel II standards in the banking industry as of 2006," adds Dominique
Perisset, Director of Deckpoint. "The economic world cannot afford anymore
not to have a complete information security strategy."

Grigoire Ribordy
Chief Executive Officer
id Quantique SA
Chemin de la Marbrerie, 3
CH-1227 Carouge / Geneva
Tel: + 41-22-3018371/2
Fax: + 41-22-3018379
Email: gregoire.ribordy at

Sources: Based on information from id Quantique


Information :

11 Oct 2004




Electronics/IT manuf

id Quantique website
SECOQC project
SECOQC factsheet on CORDIS website

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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