“Within ten or twenty years, quantum communications could be part of daily life”
31 August 2009
Interview with Arturo Azcorra, Director of IMDEA Networks.
This professor of the Carlos III University of Madrid is the head of IMDEA Networks, an international research institute that focuses its activity on developing fundamental scientific and technological advances in communications networks. In this interview, Arturo Azcorra reveals the importance of quantum theory in the future of the Internet.
1. What does quantum theory offer the Internet?
Quantum physics provides scientific foundations that are dramatically different both for computing and for communications. The specific algorithms of quantum computers have the potential to quickly resolve problems that are considered computationally unviable for current computing systems. Quantum technologies also promise to make communication protocols more efficient and more secure. For example, quantum key distributed techniques are emerging as elements of great value for networks that require a high level of security.
2. Would there be absolute security in communications and data traffic circulating on the Internet?
In general there is no such thing as absolute security. Security is a two-fold problem because human errors of the victim and the intelligence of the aggressor will always mean there are opportunities to violate any security system. However, quantum cryptography has a fundamental advantage over traditional cryptography as far as espionage is concerned. Given that reading a quantum message inevitably transforms the message, both the sender and the receiver can detect whether their message has been intercepted by a spy. Consequently, quantum communications allow the transmission of secure keys that can be used for session encryption, utilising conventional algorithms.
3. Can you comment on the goals that researchers working in this field are pursuing?
Although the field remains largely unexplored, some promising research is being carried out in several directions. The quantum key distribution I have already mentioned is one of the main focuses of intense research. The construction of quantum computers that are cost-effective aims to make the theoretical benefits of quantum computing a reality. Satellites are proving to be successful components of the quantum communication networks: research into quantum relays is striving to expand quantum communications from the current spectrum to around 50 km on dark fibre, at much greater distances, by air. The advances in state-of-the-art quantum links to the quantum networks are of particular interest.
4. When might we have quantum networks for the Internet in operation?
It is difficult to accurately predict the future of technology, but it will take at least ten or twenty years before quantum communications are part of everyday life. In this regard, we don’t know which quantum technologies will emerge as the predominant ones or even which specifically quantum theoretical properties they will use. However, everything seems to indicate that the combination of quantum computing and transmission could dramatically alter the Internet as we know it today.
5. What bodies are pioneers in this area of research?
It would be very difficult to give a full list, but the participants in the International Seminar on Quantum Networking organised by IMDEA Networks in June this year are clearly among the pioneering bodies, and they include the Institute for Quantum Computing of Canada, the University of Padova, Italy, BBN Technologies of the USA, id Quantique of Switzerland and Telefónica R&D in España.
We can also mention Bos¬ton University and Harvard University, both in the USA. Recently, scientists at the Northwestern University demonstrated that it is possible to build a quantum logic gate (an essential component of the quantum computer) inside optical fibre. And we should also include the Norman Bridge Laboratory of Physics in Caltech, USA, responsible for some of the first experiments in quantum teleportation.
6. What is IMDEA Networks and what are its objectives?
IMDEA Networks is an international research institute located in a building of the Carlos III University in Madrid, focussing on the development of fundamental scientific and technological advances in communications networks. These technologies provide the platform on which the Future Internet will be built, which will without doubt have some major innovations in wireless technology, due to the convergence with the mass-media and the introduction of quantum technologies. IMDEA Networks is achieving a position of excellence and international leadership through the creation of value and practical knowledge, generating scientific-technical advances in protocols, algorithms and Internet systems with an impact on the real world. IMDEA Networks is a meeting point for researchers, attracting a team of scientists of great international renown, who in turn collaborate with our network of partners in the public and private sectors, thereby driving the transferral of our intellectual property resources to the market and generating a highly communicative mode of operation that stimulates creative innovation.
The advances towards a universal wireless Internet will determine the progress of communications planet-wide. With this in mind, our researchers are looking for solutions to the global village in which 1012 heterogeneous wireless devices will be interconnected via the conventional terrestrial Internet. The Future Wireless Internet will be a service of mobile, ubiquitous and dominant networks that can link up anywhere and any time, evolving towards a different Internet to the cable-based one that is widespread today. IMDEA Networks exists to make this vision a reality.