Commercial quantum networks are gaining some serious traction. Less than six months after power and broadband provider EPB of Chattanooga opened what the company believes to be the first commercial quantum network in the U.S., about a dozen more commercial quantum networks are being planned. So said Duncan Earl, president and chief technology officer for Qubitekk, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
Qubitekk is a quantum network technology developer that is working with EPB on the Chattanooga network.
“Everyone is realizing this will be a thing of this decade,” said Earl in an interview with Telecompetitor. “It’s really impressive that the network piece led the way.”
Experts interviewed in a recent 60 Minutes segment said they expect to see significant adoption of quantum computers by the end of the decade as well. Quantum technology will revolutionize computing, the experts said in the news segment, which brought quantum technology to the attention of mainstream viewers.
Companies like IBM, Google and Honeywell expect quantum computers to be dramatically faster and more capable than what exists today.
Quantum networks will interconnect those quantum computers.
A Whole New Approach
Traditionally quantum networks were only available to an “elite group of researchers,” Earl told Telecompetitor. The new commercial quantum networks are designed to enable commercial entities to experiment with the technology without having to make a big technology investment of their own.
Quantum networking is a whole new approach to networking that is based on quantum physics, a field of study that dates back to the time of Einstein.
EPB is best known as the company that pioneered gigabit networks over a decade ago. The company made gigabit fiber broadband available citywide, which gave a big boost to the Chattanooga economy as entrepreneurs wanting high-speed connectivity to support their businesses moved to the community.
EPB now has similar goals for quantum networking, which will run over the fiber infrastructure that the company installed to support the gigabit network.
The company announced last week that the first customers to connect to the network would be quantum network technology developer Qunnect and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. And EPB Vice President of Strategic Communications J. Ed Marston told Telecompetitor last week that “we’re in serious conversation with a range of entities” about connecting to the network.
Qunnect operates a quantum network testbed in New York City known as GothamQ.
“We’re pursuing multiple parties in New York,” said Mehdi Namazi, Qunnect chief science officer, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
In addition to boosting network speeds, quantum networks are expected to provide a higher level of security, which should appeal to financial institutions, many of which are based in New York. Qunnect is courting those institutions and expects to see some of them connect to GothamQ so that they can experiment with quantum networking.
“If you’re a financial firm, you don’t necessarily want to buy all the hardware,” Namazi said.
Quantum networking has not yet progressed to the point where networks can be interconnected over vast distances. To address that, Qunnect is developing several devices which, when used together, will perform the role that an optical repeater does in traditional fiber networks.
As Namazi explained, though, “the only thing these two have in common is the word ‘repeater.’”
For now, Qunnect will connect to EPB in Chattanooga. Qunnect also will supply EPB with a device known as an auto polarization compensator (APC) that is analogous to noise cancellation technology.
“What we’re doing with Qunnect is representative of the conversations we’re having with other companies,” said Marston. “We will have more examples moving forward.”
Asked what EPB had learned so far about quantum networking, Marston said, “We’re learning a lot about how to raise the bar on our offering.”
For example, he said, “A lot has to do with making sure we have the equipment for the kinds of tests that need to be done to on board [participants] so they can use the network.”
When we asked Earl what Qubitekk had learned so far, he said, “We got the confidence that we’re going down the right path.”
He added, though, that “There is still a long way to go, and it will take a lot of players to make this happen.”
Although Qubitekk and Qunnect ultimately will be competitors, Earl prefers the term “co-opetition.”
“The problems are hard enough that we have to work together,” he said.