Scientists set out vision of a quantum internet

‘Quantum internet: A vision for the road ahead’ sets out a roadmap for quantum internet development that sees the technology passing through six unique phases and names Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) as an indispensable technology as part of its build.

For many years, scientists have been commenting around the use of quantum computing and the advantages the technology holds over classical computing. The benefits of quantum computing – from its immense computing power to its inherent security – make it an ideal communications medium, but technological barriers have tended to make progress difficult to judge.

However, a recent review paper by Stephanie Wehner, David Elkouss and Ronald Hanson titled ‘Quantum Internet: A vision for the road ahead’ has done just this. Building on current knowledge, Wehner et al. have set out a six-phase roadmap that will see the quantum internet develop from its infancy into a fully-fledged communications method that will enable “quantum communication between any two points on earth”.

The six phases of the quantum internet

The six stages of quantum internet

Wehner et al. describe the six stages set out in the review as being unique and clearly defined as “each stage is characterized by an increase in functionality at the expense of greater technological difficulty”, meaning that a leap in technological progress is required at each step.

Moreover, the authors state that the quantum internet will not be mutually exclusive from today’s classical internet – rather the two will work together: “Such a quantum internet will – in synergy with the ‘classical’ internet that we have today – connect quantum information processors in order to achieve unparalleled capabilities that are provably impossible by using only classical information.”

The review goes on to provide a clear definition at each stage, including benchmarks and examples of known applications. It also provides an overview of the technological progress that is required to attain each stage – from the first step of ‘Trusted repeater’ that allows for two-party cryptography, to the final ‘Quantum computing’ stage that permits leader election.

The role of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) in the quantum internet

Keen observers will notice that the first two stages of progress both mention quantum key distribution (QKD); a technology that ID Quantique has been pioneering for a decade.

“The best-known application of a quantum internet is quantum key distribution (QKD), which enables two remote network nodes to establish an encryption key whose security relies only on the laws of quantum mechanics. This is impossible with the classical internet.”

By exploiting fundamental principles of quantum physics which guarantee forward secrecy, QKD paves the way for secure communications and will protect the security and privacy of both organisations and people. Used in conjunction with a Quantum Random Number Generator (QRNG), keys are generated using true entropy and distributed across the quantum internet in the most secure method.

What’s more, recent experiments have seen QKD achieved over a record 421km in a collaboration that included ID Quantique; a sign of the technology’s continued development.

The future of secure communications

While Wehner et al. rightly admit that it is difficult to predict all uses of the future quantum internet, the review does identify several major applications that include “secure communication, clock synchronization, extending the baseline of telescopes, secure identification, achieving efficient agreement on distributed data, exceptional savings in communication, quantum sensor networks, as well as secure access to remote quantum computers in the cloud.”

The review goes on to state that the first multinode quantum computer networks are likely to appear in the next few years thanks to recent technological advances, meaning that the future of a quantum internet is closer than many think. It concludes that “this development brings the exciting opportunity to test all the ideas and functionalities that so far only exist on paper and may indeed be the dawn of a future large-scale quantum internet.”

You can read the full paper here.

Find out more about Quantum Key Distribution (QKD).

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