Astronauts landed on the moon for the first time in July 1969. 5 months later another momentous first happened, although it was mostly ignored by the world.
The internet came to be after a new computer network, “ARPAnet,” managed to successfully link 4 separate computer network nodes at the University of Utah, UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, and the Stanford Research Institute.
Over half a century later, with the human race setting its sights on Mars, there is another looming rise in communications tech. The quantum internet promises to once more transform how the world.
The prospect of a quantum internet has been much-hyped, unlike its predecessor, but we still don’t yet know what the precise capabilities of quantum internet actually are or even when it is likely to be widely operational.
Secure, Smart, Sensitive
The quantum internet is not a supercharged version of today’ internet. Rather, it will work fundamentally differently by allowing quantum computers to connect and distribute information using quantum signals as opposed to traditional IP networks.
The quantum internet will first abandon existing computing principles, like the binary system and use quantum “qubits” instead, which obey the laws of quantum mechanics. According to experts, the quantum internet will ultimately be intertwined with the traditional internet to form a new hybrid internet.
Still, in the early stages the quantum internet will likely be used as a specialized branch of the internet, one that people looking to perform highly complex tasks will be connecting to. For instance, sharpening images from linked, distant optical telescopes or even improving earthquake detection.
But where will the impact of the quantum internet be felt the most? According to the latest research by Accenture, here are the 3 most relevant areas of opportunity:
Distributed Quantum Computing
The power of a classical computer is roughly proportional to the number of central processing units (CPUs) it contains, but the power of a quantum computer experiences exponential growth depending on the number of qubits processed.
If quantum computers are networked to form the quantum internet, both individuals and organizations will likely manage to solve larger, more complex problems, such as molecular simulation to design new materials or discover new drugs.
Ultra Secure Communications
Qubits cannot be measured without being disturbed, which means that data in motion in a quantum internet will be immune to the common “man-in-the-middle” eavesdropping attacks on the traditional internet.
The quantum internet holds the potential for communications that cannot be hacked – from the transmission of confidential DoD data to financial transactions.
Quantum “sensing” not only offers much more accurate and sensitive measurements, but it also presents an opportunity for measuring things that have never been measured before.
For instance, scientists could use quantum sensors to measure, observe, and analyze previously undetected activity below the surface of the earth remotely, thus improving early-warning systems for threats such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
How Soon Might the Quantum Internet be Available at Scale?
Experts predict that a global quantum network will be online by 2030 in spite of the significant unresolved engineering challenges. One such challenge has to do with the building of yet-to-be-created quantum “repeaters” (technology that facilitates long-distance, quantum-powered communication).
Others, however, believe that it will happen much sooner.
Various breakthroughs suggest that quantum repeaters aren’t necessarily far off. For example, scientists at a Dutch research group known as QuTech, recently created a multi-node quantum network capable of linking any 2 locations in the Netherlands. Researchers from China and Spain (separately) have also demonstrated critical technical advances.
Countries that pioneer the quantum internet will enjoy both commercial and geopolitical advantages, as is the case with the traditional internet. That’s the driving force behind initiatives like the European Quantum Internet Alliance.
Businesses and governments, however, need even greater collaboration to accelerate their countries’ quantum-related R&D efforts to make the most of the quantum internet. An early leader is the Chinese government that has already launched a quantum satellite into orbit and has managed to connect Beijing to Shanghai with a 4,600 km quantum network. Such experimentation funded by governments is reminiscent of ARPAnet and the early internet.
The development of robust quantum communication “ecosystems” comprising startup firms, telecom providers, research institutions and established businesses, will also be important for setting standards, developing new solutions through the pooling of resources and cultivating relevant skills for workers.
Telecom providers play an important role within such ecosystems. They need to start building their capabilities and testing their performance in quantum network testbeds and network stimulators to adequately prepare for the numerous opportunities ahead.
Another top priority should be the building of quantum-related intellectual property (IP).
The Future of Quantum Internet is Now!
Today, there’s much uncertainty and much justified excitement about the quantum internet. Still, you can confidently make two predictions. Like its predecessor, the quantum internet will likely change the world in unpredictable and far-reaching ways and that day will come sooner than you might think.