We can’t predict exactly when quantum technologies will become available, but we do expect breakthroughs that will make quantum applications feasible and viable in the coming decade. We highlight four scenarios in which quantum communication and quantum computers are – or are not yet – available. Keep in mind that, staying true to quantum theory, all four scenarios can exist at the same time.
Classical post-quantum cryptography
A gradual transition towards quantum-resistant systems and services
Quantum technologies are still in their infancy, yet we are already starting to see the first commercial products and services that make use of quantum technologies. Even though a large-scale quantum computer that can break existing cryptography schemes is likely to be more than 10 years away, it is imperative that industries and societies start preparing for the quantum era. This involves upgrading current cryptography schemes to post-quantum cryptography schemes, which requires software upgrades and very often hardware upgrades as well. This is a massive undertaking for organizations that deal with extensive infrastructure and legacy systems like, for example, banks and telecom operators. Most of these large organizations will need up to ten years to become fully quantum resistant. It will be a gradual process, not a big bang; initial focus will be on critical data and infrastructure. This means that there will be a time period of five to ten years, depending on the organization and speed of implementation, in which parts of their systems will be quantum proof and other parts will not be.Tech consultancy companies will seize the opportunity and establish specialized quantum teams to help organizations become quantum-resistant.
Creating a fundamentally
Although working in fundamentally different ways, the architecture of quantum networks will resemble classical networks: nodes with (quantum) processors, glass fiber lines and optical (quantum) switches to direct traffic to the right node. We can use high-quality fibers that are already in place today, and install additional hardware and software to create quantum networks. This will enable fully secure communication by creating entanglement on demand between any two users on the network. Initially, quantum networks will only be available between a few locations and have very low bit rates. They will primarily be used for quantum key exchange, synchronization and identification (more on these applications on pages 32-39). The first quantum networks will be owned and used by governments, big tech companies and telecom providers. Early adopters of commercial services will be organizations with sufficient budgets and a high need for secrecy. Examples are financial institutions, manufacturers and service providers in the defence industry, non-governmental organizations and maybe also criminal and terrorist organizations in disguise.
Over time, quantum networks will evolve into a full-scale quantum internet with higher bandwidths. Commercial quantum communication services will become more widely available and affordable, and we will have a quantum internet that co-exists with the classical internet.
Towards quantum advantage
Quantum computers will bring us computing power we have never seen before. Universities, research institutions and tech companies like Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Alibaba, are working hard to make quantum computers a reality. They are also working towards quantum advantage – also referred to as quantum supremacy – the point in time when a quantum computer can solve problems that a classical computer cannot (or takes so long that it is not economically viable). Besides breaking today’s most widely used cryptography schemes, we don’t know yet what the other killer applications for quantum computing will be. And since quantum computers work in fundamentally different ways, we need quantum programming – a new way of coding – and a new type of programming interface. Some organizations are making quantum computers publicly available over the internet to learn how people use it, and what they will use it for. Some of them combine classical and quantum computing in a single cloud platform, offering a virtual development environment for building quantum programs and running these on real quantum hardware.
Early adopters are expected to use quantum computers to solve challenges in chemistry. With the help of quantum computers, we can simulate chemical reactions and predict the properties of complex molecules that classical computers cannot handle. This will enable us to design new chemicals, drugs and materials instead of discovering them through endless experimentation.
Unleashing the full power of
When combining quantum computing with quantum communication, blind computing becomes a reality. This quantum computation at-a-distance is called ‘blind’ because it is fully secure. Nobody in the network can intercept your data and even the people who own the quantum computer cannot see what type of algorithm you’re running or what data you have. This offers benefits for governments, non-governmental organisations and corporations who want to solve computational challenges that are highly sensitive from a political or commercial perspective. However, it also poses a threat: criminals or terrorists can use blind computing to break (classical) encryption or develop new weaponry, for example. The combination of quantum communication and quantum computers may also bring quantum advantage closer to the present. Building a single computer with a high number of logical qubits is still very difficult, and most likely more than ten years into the future. But through quantum networks we can link multiple smaller quantum computers and by using this distributed computing, the system behaves like one virtual large-scale quantum computer.