Where is Quantum Networking and Communication Heading?

  • By Jenny Stein
  • 14 October 2020

The Quantum Information Science and Technology (QIST) Summit, hosted by the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Lab, took place on October 7-8th and connected industry, governmental, and academic experts to discuss six broad themes in panel sessions. PQI students attended the online event and prepared summaries of each panel. You can find the first three of the panel reports here and here. The last half will be released next week.

The Quantum Networking and Communication panel discussion was moderated by Prof. David Awschalom from the University of Chicago, who is also the quantum group leader in Argonne National Laboratory. This panel mainly discussed recent developments and challenges in the field, driving areas of interests, the near- and long-term focus of the industry, and potential impact in society. The panel guests came from various backgrounds and provided insight over a broad range of topics.

Eden Figueroa, Professor and group leader at Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory, just achieved communicating quantum-memory-compatible qubits between the two labs. Specifically, they are trying to work at room temperature and demonstrate that their atomic system is capable of working in telecom frequencies, which is important for long-distance communications.

He pointed out that a demonstration of rule of principle is still needed, e.g., quantum memory can be achieved, before long-distance communication can fully be realized. Moreover, challenges will remain in how to connect quantum systems in different locations and find homogeneity in the operation between different systems.

Duncan Earl, President & CTO of Qubitekk Corporation, provided a different perspective as an entrepreneur. His company builds devices like entangled photon sources, single photon counting devices, and high-speed electronics. They also take licenses from national labs to transfer into industry products. Their concerns mainly focus on the availability of the tools.

To understand our progress, he gave the example of how the 1st digital computer had 20,000 vacuum tubes. For quantum communication, we are still at the stage of ‘making vacuum tubes’. We need to develop basic components, e.g., qubit generators, memory systems, and single photon detectors. Access to tools and testbeds is crucial in building consistent and reliable quantum systems.

Kathy-Anne Soderberg, senior research scientist in the Air Force Research Lab, talked more about their ‘3-step’ roadmap. The 1st step is more about basic research on the preliminary connection and protocols needed. They are trying to realize quantum networks consisting of trapped ion stations, superconducting qubits, and photonic integrated circuits.

The 2nd step is reducing the size, weight, and power of a system so it can be deployed to field sites, and the final step will be the field site testing for ground and air applications. The problem will be that each step of the testbed will see development into the next, and if the field site demo does not work, they need to go back to the research end. Everything is intertwined.

Maria Spiropulu’s group in Caltech designs quantum deliberation systems for a practical realistic quantum internet. Her emphasis is on the collaboration of researchers and how to make them accessible to testbeds. Maria calls for building an organization that merges diverse communities and cultures so that people from multiple domains of science and technology can collaborate seamlessly.

Also, while different researchers have various interests and different scopes, DOE, as an organizer, should study how those different scopes work and take the responsibility to structure different interests and inhomogeneous scopes so that everybody can participate in the development and implement their goals within each scope.

Raymond T. Newell, a quantum communication team leader from Los Alamos National laboratory, addressed the benefits to national security by the development of a quantum network. His team develops quantum networks that extend the security benefits of point-to-point length to long-range application through optical fiber and free space optical communications. They also focus on quantum algorithm optimization problems.

Raymond gave an analogy of the development of the Internet to highlight that the development of a quantum network is significant but also dangerous. While quantum computers need a quantum network to fully unlock their potential, many of the most important applications may not be foreseen by the people developing it, as in the case of the Internet.

So, they need people outside physics to brainstorm the applications of this technology. This can help to find the core values of the technology, and in turn, allow society to benefit from the maximal usage of it.

In addition, all of the panelists stressed the importance of collaboration between national labs, industry, and academia. They are also concerned about how IP is handled, how to avoid competition due to IP, and how profit is distributed to every participant.

Quantum networking and communication is an area that requires efforts both within the country and around the world, and needs strong and deep collaborations between national labs, academia and industry. Although most panelists think that the quantum network and communication can become practical in around 10 years, to achieve the bright future, great efforts are still needed to reach fruitful outcomes from physics, electrical engineering, computer science and many other research fields.

Written by Andi Li