Chattanooga utility company EPB may be the highest-profile network operator exploring the quantum internet. But it’s not the only one doing so. Verizon has been exploring quantum networking for several years.
Telecompetitor spoke recently with Venkata Josyula, a director in Verizon’s Technology and Product Development team, who filled us in on what the company is doing in this area.
As he sees it, Verizon knows how to operate and maintain the communications networks that it already has built and that it relies on today. The company knows the quantum internet is coming.
Accordingly, his job is to focus on “what impact this will have on existing networks.”
Quantum Internet Basics
Quantum networking is one of several emerging technology development areas – along with quantum computing and quantum cryptography – that are based on quantum physics.
What the telecom industry needs to know about quantum networking is that communication occurs via “entangled” subatomic particles. Entangled particles are a bit like digital twins. Once particles are entangled — even if they are separated geographically – changes to particles at one end automatically occur to particles on the other end.
Additionally, quantum particles can include more information in comparison with what can be communicated via traditional methods involving ones and zeros. The upshot is that quantum networks are faster and should be more secure in comparison with traditional communications. Applications are seen in government, finance and more.
That doesn’t mean traditional communications networks – known as “classical networks” in quantum internet jargon — will become obsolete.
As Josyula explained, “These networks will co-exist. We will use classical networks for establishing and maintaining entanglement pairs.”
Maintaining the connection is likely to be the most difficult of those responsibilities, according to Josyula.
“It’s extremely complex to maintain the connection between two ends,” he said.
Just as photons decay over traditional optical networks, quantum particles also decay, only more so, he explained, and a lot of today’s quantum networking research is focused on that challenge.
How Soon Will We See the Quantum Internet?
For now, quantum networks are confined to academic testbeds and to the one that EPB has launched. EPB aims to take the technology beyond academia but won’t be taking it beyond the Chattanooga metro area until issues involved with maintaining entanglement over greater distances are resolved.
That limitation could be a good thing for Chattanooga, however. EPB hopes its network will attract companies working on developing quantum internet technology to the community.
Josyula highlighted several areas where further development must occur.
“The key milestones we’d like to see are quantum repeaters and quantum memory,” he said.
Work also must be done on a protocol stack for the quantum internet that would be akin to the ISO-OSI seven-layer model, Josyula said. He also noted that developers are working on quantum sensors.
Another gating factor could be the maturity of quantum computing.
“The need to connect computers will come about when quantum computers are stable enough and quantum computing has made enough advancements,” he predicted.
Josyula expects the required quantum internet advances to come together to support what he called “global interconnect” in 10 to 15 years.
Whether that’s a long time or a short time depends on each stakeholder’s point of view.
Verizon already is participating in various consortia focused on different aspects of quantum internet development.
And considering the timeline we typically see for new generations of technology – the move from 4G to 5G, for example – it would seem that the time has come for more companies to get involved in planning for the quantum internet.
The author first heard of the quantum internet, and first became acquainted with Josyula’s work, when he participated in an FCC quantum internet forum in late 2020. An archive is available at this link.