The EU recently announced its intentions to invest €1bn in quantum technologies over the next ten years.
Some European institutions appear to be ahead of the game. For example, the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRiM) in Turin has been developing a quantum communications system that promises to be “impossible to intercept”. Ivo Degiovanni, a researcher at INRIM predicts “in less than a year, we will pick up the phone to a colleague in Florence and it will be a call unlike any other, because it will be a quantum call”.
What is a quantum call? Well, the medium for the call would be the same as today – a fibre optic cable – but the nature of the call, well that would be a little different. The voice data would be encrypted, with the secure key transmitted as a part of the dataflow – on the back of a single photon.
One of the principles of quantum physics concerns the observation of particles. More specifically, that observation leads to perturbation (the observer effect). In practice, this means that any attempt to intercept or “observe” the call would corrupt the information and render it useless. “Our calls will be secure in an absolute way” says Degiovanni, “because if someone attempts to eavesdrop, the data will disappear”.
Thomas Calarco from the University of Ulm explains: “Einstein was one of the first to theorise about quantum physics but he didn’t think we would ever be able to exploit particles on this level. All the tools we use for communication today, such as our mobile phones, use millions of particles. What we are talking about here is communication using a single electron or photon”
INRiM is working together with quantum technology experts, ID Quantique and Telsy, to develop a secure, encrypted communication system as a part of the emerging Italian Quantum Backbone. The practical applications of secure communications are widespread, with governments, the military, financial institutions and multinational companies all likely beneficiaries.
Communications is just one of the fields set to benefit from advances in quantum technologies. The EU has recognised the potential of quantum and the competitive advantages to be gained from being the first to bring viable quantum solutions to market, hence the commitment to funding over the next 10 years. China and the US already have large-scale quantum projects underway but the European experiment appears to be at a more advanced stage.
The quantum race is well and truly underway and Europe looks set to have a say in the outcome.
NB: Based on an R.it article; you may read the original (in Italian) here.