Quantum fiber network to launch in August

A supposedly unhackable Internet network is about to be launched

optical fiber
Credit: Flickr/Groman123

The most secure form of network ever created has been successfully real-world-tested in China, said a publication there yesterday.

Quantum entanglement—the tech that drives quantum networks—is a part of quantum-key distribution (QKD). Roughly, it gains its supposedly unhackable nature because the subatomic particles that make up the data impact each other all at the same time, regardless of where they are in the transmission.

That means that because all of the cryptographic keys are intertwined, it’s possible to see at any time if bits have been corrupted. That includes being stolen or erased. Any disruption becomes transparent and throws an error. One can’t hack the system, experts say.

“The particles cannot be destroyed or duplicated. Any eavesdropper will disrupt the entanglement and alert the authorities,” China Daily quotes Wang Jianyu, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, as saying.

The city of Jinan, Shandong Province, claims to be the first municipality to be using such a conceivably impenetrable system. It’s been testing it since May and says that it’s been able to encrypt 4,000 pieces of data per second with it.

Phone calls and files will be among the media to be quantum-delivered by government, military and other initial users when the functioning “citywide scale” $19.5 million network rolls out in August, the publication says.

China has, in fact, also just completed a quantum communications backbone network for banks and government. Using fiber, the 2,000-kilometer link runs from Beijing to Shanghai and will be used for exchanging quantum keys, according to IEEE, writing about it last year.

Quantum communications additionally is expected to play a part in upcoming satellite communications networks. New, lower-cost micro-satellites are expected to proliferate in the future. They may well end up using QKD on-board via photon laser signals beamed to optical ground stations.

Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT) says it has just succeeded in testing a hack-resistant laser quantum transmission from space with a six-kilogram, 18-centimeter-long transmitter on a satellite.

“This is a major step toward building a global long-haul and truly-secure satellite communication network,” it said in a press release yesterday.

Lasers are expected to play an important part in future satellite constellations partly because currently used radio frequency bands are congested. Light will allow transmissions to be more efficient, with lower power, and thus allow smaller and cheaper satellites. A major part of that new satellite communications technology will be the securing of it.

Distance, however, has been a problem area for QKD development in general. While conceptually the subatomic communicating particles that make up the warren of entangled keys affect each other wherever they are in the stream, they actually dilute over distance—just as any other medium. Scattering takes place, for example.

“The problem we’ve got is distance,” IEEE’s article quotes Tim Spiller, of Quantum Communications Hub in the U.K., as saying. Long-distance fiber links, such as the Beijing-to-Shanghai one, need repeating with non-quantum nodes periodically. That adds insecurity, although it’s still more secure than not using QKD, the article says.

Quantum technologies are going to revolutionize telecommunications, though, scientists believe.

 “Mobile devices with unprecedented speed, uncrackable security and lower cost” are among the features Lancaster University researchers in the U.K. promise from their light-based quantum system they hold patents on, the school wrote in a press release this month.

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