- A new report from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) lays out a road map to a secure quantum internet future.
- The report says quantum networking is closer to ready than more-hyped quantum computers.
- Notably, there are no real timeframes, just large hardware and implementation goals.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has announced a plan to make a quantum internet it says is virtually unhackable. This is definitely a long-term plan that will require new kinds of engineering and technology, not something that will be implemented next year. Let’s take a look at the concept, the plan the DoE has laid out, and how long it all might take.
Within the framework of quantum mechanics, the network proposed here is pretty intuitive. (That’s a big caveat, though!) The report begins with a surprising notion: Although headlines and research have focused on the power of quantum computing, we’re far away from any practical and recognizable computer powered by quantum phenomena. The idea of a quantum network, the DoE says, is far closer to our reach.
🤯 You like quantum. We like quantum. Let’s nerd out together.
Think of how rapidly fiber optic internet increased our connection speed capacity while computers have remained basically the same. Having a firehose-sized bandwidth can harmonize with great up-to-date hardware to improve the entire experience, letting people stream HD video and more onto hardware that could often already do it. And a quantum internet could rapidly increase even over high fiber speeds.
How will a quantum link make this happen? The DoE explains in a statement:
“It works through two quantum phenomena: the first is quantum entanglement, where two particles can become so inextricably linked that no matter how much distance separates them, changing the properties of one will change those of the other. And since that communication happens instantly, a quantum internet could be much faster than today’s networks.”
“The second phenomenon is quantum superposition, where a particle can exist in two different states at once,” the DoE continues. “This is what enables tighter security of the information shared across a quantum network. Information is encoded into entangled pairs of photons, in a superposition of states—in data terms that means they represent both a one and a zero at the same time.” (Keen-eyed hardware observers know that quantum encryption was one of the foremost suggested applications of the technology.)
In the report, researchers explain the experimental environment allows for very tiny versions of specific networking setups only, like the part where entanglement is tested across great distances to prove the hypothetical case. For any scalable version of this technology, we’ll need the full complement of networking equipment, including all the interfaces to link up with satellites, repeaters to keep the signal going, and memory buffers that will help with transmission. All has to be compatible with quantum technology, requiring an almost all-new paradigm.
The DoE researchers lay out five milestones. The first is to make sure quantum technology can do many of the tasks we use networks for now, like exchanging data safely and completely with minimal loss. By the final milestone, a complete network of government and university nodes should be able to transition to the infrastructure for home and commercial users.
If that sounds ambitious, remember the government developed all the groundwork and the actual technology of what we now think of as the internet.
The report cites exciting test cases, like a 2019 experiment in China where scientists showed quantum entanglement across 745 miles. This, too, mirrors the past—not only when local networks were joined until they formed a true World Wide Web, but even when engineers were developing radios to transmit wirelessly from remote cities or when telegraph companies laid the very first cables across the ocean.
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