Quantum networks are expected to be a big part of the internet’s future and a number of organizations are racing to develop and commercialize the technology
Quantum computers are based on the properties of subatomic particles, such as the polarization of a single photon. The massive potential of these computers is based on the ability of these particles to enter a state known as superposition.
Superposition is when a particle can have more than one quantum state at a time, such as being both a particle and a wave. This condition also allows for something called a state of entanglement, when the quantum state of one particle is dependent on the state of another. Therefore, if one particle is altered, the other is instantly altered as well. Entanglement open the door to a more secure way of internet communication through the use of quantum key distribution (QKD).
QKD makes it possible for two parties to generate a shared random secret key that can then be used to encrypt and decrypt messages. A critical property of QKD is the ability of the two 'key holders' to recognize the presence of a hacker since attempting to measure a quantum system affects the system. Through the use of quantum entanglement, a quantum network would be extremely difficult to hack because an attempt to do so would be easily detected.
Quantum networking has been achieved, but over shorter distances than those covered by classical computer networks. In June 2017, Chinese scientists reported entangled photons over a distance of at least 1,200 km between two ground stations. Photons were directed from one ground station to a satellite and back down to a different ground station.
Commercial forays into quantum computing
Regarded by many as the leader in quantum computing, IBM started working on qubits in 1998 and currently has a formidable group that is developing the technology. The company has made noteworthy progress across the complete quantum computing technology stack, bringing it to the cloud in 2016. In November, IBM announced it has developed a 50-qubit prototype, a massive milestone for quantum computing that isn’t commercially available just yet. While the 50-qubit computer isn't ready for commercial use, IBM has made a 20-qubit system available through the cloud.
Google is also a big commercial player that made its mark by building a fault-tolerant quantum computer. Flawed computations can quickly render a quantum computer inferior to classical supercomputers and Google has claimed the successful testing of a fault-tolerant system it says can be the foundation for a large-scale quantum computing. The company has also released a report that demonstrated quantum supremacy over classical supercomputers through the use of superconducting qubits. In their paper, Google researchers described how nine superconducting qubits could lead to quantum supremacy. The study said a similar system made up of 50 qubits could solve scientific questions that are currently beyond the abilities of any classical computer.
Start-ups are also getting in on the action. Rigetti Computing is a California-based company that is building its own quantum computer. The Canada-based D-Wave Systems is currently the only business selling quantum computers, although its devices are only capable of solving specific optimization challenges.
Saying that quantum computing will be mainstream within the next five years, IBM has invested more than $38 billion in the technology and has selected a number of small start-ups to work with on advancing the technology. These companies are currently running experiments and testing algorithms on IBM's quantum computers via cloud-based access.
Q-CTRL is one of those start-up businesses in IBM’s quantum constellation. The Australia-based company has created cloud-based software capable of working on any quantum computer, despite how it's made. The business claims to be capable of manipulating qubits to keep them in superposition and performing quantum computations with low error rates.
"When companies like IBM start selling commercial access to their quantum computers, our controls will make the hardware work and that would be a commercial arrangement," Q-Ctrl founder Michael Biercuk recently told the Financial Review.