US gov reveals prototype for quantum internet

A test site is under construction in Chicago although a nationwide network could be a decade away

An unhackable 'quantum internet' could be realised within a decade, the US Department of Energy has announced.

The government body laid out a blueprint strategy for the development of a national quantum network at the University of Chicago on Thursday.

A quantum internet is thought to be the most secure way of transferrng data, and is already forming the basis of a number of promising use cases, according to the Department of Energy. A prototype for an internet of this kind is already under construction in the Chicago area.

In February, scientists from the Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago entangled photons across a 52-mile "quantum loop" in the City's suburbs. They successfully established one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the US and it will soon be connected to the Department of Energy's Fermilab in Illinois as a three-node, 80-mile testbed.

Quantum networks use quantum bits, known as 'qubits', to transmit information at speed, unlike the current or 'classical' method where information is sent via tiny data packets through cables. At ether end of the line is a quantum 'operator' that is able to decode the information and sends it back down the line.

Aside from faster transfer speeds, its true value lies in its innate ability to obfuscate data. Anyone attempting to intercept this data transfer and view the data will inadvertently change the information sent, alerting the sender of their intrusion, and corrupting it beyond recognition.

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"While quantum computing has garnered most of the recent headlines, quantum networking – especially with its promise of secure communication – actually is capturing the interest of a growing community across science, industry, and national security," a Department of Energy report said.

"Today, many people recognise that building and scaling quantum-protected and enhanced communication networks are among the most important technological frontiers of the 21st century."

Early adopters of this type of communication could include bank, health services and national security agencies. In the long-term, quantum network technology could be used on mobile phones or to exchange vast amounts of data via the quantum internet.

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