NPL breakthrough opens the way to measure performance of next-gen quantum communication networks

Posted on 13 Dec 2023 by The Manufacturer

Scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have developed a new technique to test and measure the performance of next-generation optical fibre interconnects for quantum communication networks.

NPL’s Optical Fiber Metrology team devised an innovative new approach to measure a key parameter for optical fibre performance called Mode Field Diameter (MFD) on commercial quantum-grade connectors intended for use in a quantum internet. The new measurement technique incorporates traceable verification into high performance quantum-grade interconnects, to ensure the most efficient transmission possible of entangled photons over fibre networks.

Robert Ferguson, Higher Scientist at NPL, explained, “A photonic-based quantum internet will need high quality and efficient interconnects for long-haul operation of quantum computing and secure communication processes. Its performance is dependent upon very low-loss connectivity between optical interconnecting components that make up the network hardware.”

Ferguson continued, “Maximising network efficiencies in quantum networks is essential in order to ensure the optimal transmission of entangled photons in a quantum internet. Connectors used in a quantum network must have excellent coupling efficiencies to minimise link losses. Fibre that does not meet the necessary efficiency levels will degrade transmission and impede performance.”

A quantum internet will enable applications such as ultra-secure, highly encrypted communications for distributed quantum computing in hyperscale data centres, advanced high-performance computing, and also 5G mobile environments such as smart cities or advanced automated manufacturing sites that use fibre for their backhaul.

NPL aims to continue measuring other commercial quantum grade optical cable configurations as well as further modifying existing systems to enable traceable measurements on a range of dedicated interconnects for the quantum internet.

“Quantum networks will transform how we send and receive all types of data,” said Ferguson. “The quantum internet is still several years away from becoming a mainstream technology, but it has the potential to reshape how we live and work: how we do business: and how we approach issues of national strategic importance such as defence and security.

“Quantum-powered networks are the kind of early-stage disruptive technology that NPL is ideally placed to lead on in a way that improves stability and performance for widespread practical rollout and uptake, at a national level and also worldwide.”

Earlier this month, NPL, in collaboration with government and industry partners including BSI, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), UKQuantum, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), launched the UK Quantum Standards Network Pilot to support establishing global standards for quantum.

The Network Pilot’s purpose is to help UK quantum-focused companies overcome obstacles and realise the potential of quantum technologies in applications ranging from healthcare and finance to defence and communications.

In March, the UK Government announced its National Quantum Strategy, a 10-year vision and strategy mission for the country to become a leading quantum-enabled economy.

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