What can the Quantum Internet really accomplish?

The Quantum Internet is emerging – one experiment at a time. Scientists from all around the world are working on this technology to be able to communicate by teleportation. However, most still do not know exactly what it is and what value it will present to its users.

Simply put, the future quantum internet will use qubits of quantum information, which can take on an infinite number of values. The quantum internet is a network that will be designed to allow quantum devices to exchange data within an environment that harnesses the laws of quantum mechanics. This will eventually result in unprecedented capabilities, which are impossible to carry out using the current applications.

Instead of the bits that today’s networks use, which can only express a value of either 0 or 1, the quantum internet would utilize qubits of quantum information, which can take on an infinite number of values. As a result, it will have much more bandwidth; making it possible to connect very powerful quantum computers and other devices that run massive applications.

With that being said, qubits can be lost or scattered in fibre-optic cables, meaning that they are quite error-prone and are limited when travelling over long distances. In fact, current experiments are limited to a few hundred kilometres. The solution to this is entanglement, which is what supports the quantum internet. When two qubits interact with each other and become entangled they share certain properties and any change in one particle of the pair will result in a change to the other. Thus, in quantum telecommunication entanglement can teleport information from one qubit to its entangled other half without any physical channel. This collection of shared entanglement between pairs of people across the world is what essentially constitutes the quantum internet.

Furthermore, once this is possible on a large scale, the quantum internet will be extraordinarily fast; making GPS navigation much more accurate than it is today and giving scientists the means to map the Earth’s gravitational field in astonishing detail, allowing them to spot the ripple of gravitational waves. Complex simulations can also be created, which allow researchers to get a better understanding of the behaviour of molecules and proteins in order to develop and test new medicine.

However, one should note that the quantum internet will not replace the regular internet, but rather, it will complement it. This means that it will address some of the problems that currently limit the internet. Since messages over the internet travel along a straight line, signals that transmit the message degrade, repeaters read the signals and correct any errors. The issue is that it allows hackers to intercept the message. This is where the benefit of quantum is truly realised; such networks will use particles of light photons to send messages which are not vulnerable to cyberattacks. In fact, Ray Newell, a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, says that “you can’t copy it or cut it in half, and you can’t even look at it without changing it.” This is because simply trying to intercept a message will destroy it, enabling encryption that is much more secure than anything available today.

This might all sound like a sci-fi concept, but building quantum networks is a key ambition for many countries around the world today. Whatever happens, the next generation of the Internet will rely on revolutionary new technology — allowing for unhackable networks and information that travels faster than the speed of light.