Industrial partners join quantum internet project

Establishing a quantum internet connection between The Hague and Delft has proven more difficult than expected. With new partners, QuTech now aims for realisation in 2021.

Quantum internet connects entangled qubits over glas fiber. (Photo: pxhere)

QuTech, itself a collaboration between TU Delft and TNO, was joined last week by leading telecom provider KPN, the academic ICT organisation SURF, and the glass fibre specialist OPNT (Optical Positioning Navigation and Timing). QuTech expects the inflow of extra money, equipment and expertise to accelerate the demonstration connection for the quantum internet. QuTech, KPN, SURF and OPNT are members of the TKI High Tech Systems & Materials consortium.

A quantum internet connection is based on the remote entanglement of quantum bits (qubits) via a dedicated glass fibre. The expectations of this connection are high: secure communication, position verification, and computations performed on remote quantum computers.

In June 2018, Delta wrote: ‘In 2020, the researchers want to connect four cities in the Netherlands via quantum entanglement.’

“We haven’t,” responds Dr Wojciech Kozlowski, a postdoc researcher at QuTech involved in the quantum internet project. “Establishing entanglement over a larger distance has proven more difficult than we anticipated. The technical challenges are phenomenal, and operational challenges have delayed progress.”

Four cities
QuTech expects that the presence of the three new partners will accelerate the development of a remote quantum connection. Also, the short-term goals have been altered, as QuTech’s Director of Business Development Kees Eijkel explains. “QuTech is pushing for earlier public access to quantum networks, by means of state-of-the art simulation tools. A first one, NetSquid, was launched recently. For the physical connection, the aim for next year is to establish a quantum internet connection between Delft and The Hague.” Connecting four cities, as was the ambition in 2018, is delayed but remains the target.

The work of commercial partners is application-driven, Kozlowski remarks, and focused. Network providers are considering a ‘quantum key distribution service’ to generate a secure connection between two internet connections. Another service might be the ‘blind quantum computing’ in which a user can perform computations on a remote quantum computer “without the computer knowing the input and output,” as Kozlowski explains. If this dazzles you, don’t worry, it is bound to.

Science editor Jos Wassink

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