In an event held at the University of Chicago, the U.S. DOE unveiled a blueprint for creating a quantum internet in the United States.  The network would start with a network being constructed in the Chicago area between the University of Chicago, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Batavia, Illinois, and the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois.  A 52 mile testbed loop for this network has already been constructed in the Chicago suburbs and is one of the longest land-based quantum networks in the U.S.  This testbed will be extended soon to connect Fermilab and will have a length of 80 miles. DOE intends to proceed and connect up all 17 of their national labs to establish the backbone of the quantum internet.

U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories

The program is envisioned as a long term, decades long project that will require the invention and production of several new technologies including quantum memory, quantum repeaters, error correction and other technologies.  The ultimate goal is to build a multi-institutional ecosystem between laboratories, academia, and industry to transition from demonstration to operational infrastructure.

The U.S. quantum internet could potentially achieve multiple purposes.  First, it could provide provably secure encrypted communications between two points using a physics based approach that cannot be broken by a powerful quantum computer.   However, this DOE effort has competition from an effort by NIST to develop an alternative method using software and a mathematics and algorithm approach called Post Quantum Encryption (PQC).  NIST just announced the beginning of their Round 3 selection process yesterday.  Another purpose for a quantum network would be to enable distributed quantum computing over large distances by sending entangled photons over a fiber optic cable so that multiple quantum computers can work together to tackle large problems.

The DOE views this development effort as the 21st century version of the 1960s and 1970s ARPANET creation.  That network started in 1969 with four nodes and eventually expanded to the internet we have today which has billions of nodes. You can see the maps below to see how the ARPANET grew in the early years.

The ARPANET in December 1969
The ARPANET in December 1970
The ARPANET in September 1973
The ARPANET in February 1982

For more on this announcement, you can read the press release from the University of Chicago here, an article from the DOE here, and a technical document that provides a blueprint of how the government intends on constructing this network here.

July 23, 2020