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AWS buys before it tries with quantum networking center

Fundamental problems of qubit physics aside, the cloud giant thinks it can help

Nothing in the quantum hardware world is fully cooked yet, but quantum computing is quite a bit further along than quantum networking – an esoteric but potentially significant technology area, particularly for ultra-secure transactions. Amazon Web Services is among those working to bring quantum connectivity from the lab to the real world. 

Short of developing its own quantum processors, AWS has created an ecosystem around existing quantum devices and tools via its Braket (no, that's not a typo) service. While these bits and pieces focus on compute, the tech giant has turned its gaze to quantum networking.

Alongside its Center for Quantum Computing, which it launched in late 2021, AWS has announced the launch of its Center for Quantum Networking. The latter is grandly working to solve "fundamental scientific and engineering challenges and to develop new hardware, software, and applications for quantum networks," the internet souk declared.

Like quantum computers, these networks exploit particle physics, specifically using photons to send information. AWS describes potential early applications that include clustering individual quantum systems and enabling quantum key distribution that could surpass traditional encryption – a research subject near and dear to the US government. 

In 2020, the US Department of Energy created a Quantum Internet Blueprint with four priority quantum network research areas [PDF] that make clear how preliminary current concepts are:

  • Determine what hardware will be needed to create a scalable quantum internet;
  • Determine how to integrate multiple quantum networking devices;
  • Determine how to repeat, route, and switch quantum signals;
  • Determine how to handle errors in quantum networks;

Nevertheless, the DoE said it "has reached the point where it can consider moving from small-scale experiments toward a first nationwide quantum internet facility." 

One of the main technical hurdles for a functional quantum internet is addressed the DoE's third research area, which looks to solve a fundamental problem of quantum physics: photons can't be amplified, so their range is limited. "This means that special new technologies, such as quantum repeaters and transducers, will need to be developed in order to implement global quantum networks," AWS explained. 

Quantum entanglement is necessary for these kind of networks to operate, but even then range is limited. The DoE said in its blueprint that entanglement experiments had reached distances of up to 1,200km – impressive, but nowhere near a globe-spanning internet. 

Dutch researchers recently addressed one fundamental problem in quantum networking – transmitting data via an intermediary node – but the paper makes no mention of the range the researchers were able to get from their experiment. 

With all the engineering and scientific challenges in the way, AWS's Center for Quantum Networking has a lot of problems to choose from – but didn't specify any in its announcement. Amazon hasn't responded to questions about the Center's broader plans. ®

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