Building a quantum Internet

There is a global quantum race going on, with the US, the EU and China aiming at building a communication system using quantum mechanics.  For all three power blocs quantum networks represent one of the most important technological frontiers of the 21st century. According to experts, the foundation of quantum networks rests on our ability to precisely synthesize and manipulate matter at the atomic scale, including the control of single photons. But what can we do with a quantum Internet?

The idea is that quantum mechanics can control and transmit information more securely than ever before, and that one can create virtually unhackable networks with this technology. On top of that, a powerful quantum computer could theoretically break much of the encryption currently used to secure e-mails and Internet transactions.

Besides the security aspect, scientists are also exploring how the quantum internet could expedite the exchange of vast amounts of data, and carry out large-scale sensing experiments, for example in astronomy, materials discovery and life sciences. Eventually, quantum mechanics will lead to ‘teleporting information’, meaning that information exchange does not need a physical infrastructure anymore.

One of the problems that those who develop the quantum Internet face, is that until now information can only be sent over limited distances. To solve this problem, the US is looking into optical fiber solutions, where China opts for satellite solutions. And according to many in this field of study, China is in the lead at the moment. In 2017, a team of Chinese scientists, using an experimental satellite, tested so-called quantum entanglement over unprecedented distances, beaming entangled pairs of photons to three ground stations across China—each separated by more than 1,200 kilometers. China seems to be the front-runner in the present quantum space race. A race that could have geopolitical consequences.

The present goal of quantum researchers is to first scale the networks up to a national level, and then go international. Most scientist agree though that this will take at least a couple of decades.

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