Launch of Q-networks takes quantum technologies from the lab to the real world

By July 8, 2022ICFO

The BIST centre ICFO and Cellnex Telecom join forces under the project Q-networks to put into motion the first steps of the quantum internet. The project has been selected by the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (MCIN) as one of only two in Spain to carry out work related to quantum technologies.

In spring of 2021, ICFO scientists Dario Lago, Samuele Grandi, Jelena Rakonjac and ICFO Alum Alessandro Seri, led by ICREA Prof at ICFO, Hugues de Riedmatten, accomplished a landmark result in quantum communications. They were able to achieve scalable, telecom-heralded matter-matter entanglement between two remote, multimode and solid-state quantum memories. That is, they were able to store one single photon in two quantum memories placed 10m apart. The results were considered of such importance that the study was published in Nature and featured on the cover of the magazine.

But those results were just a mere first step in the long journey towards the ultimate goal of building the quantum internet. In doing so, the team has wanted to bring the experiment outside the lab, develop a real functional quantum repeater link, and connect different links together to distribute entanglement along them. They aimed to bring this 10m connection between quantum memories to longer distances and moving it out into the real world to see how the system might behave outside a controlled and stable environment such as the one inside the lab.

To be able to do this, the research groups of the ICREA Profs. at ICFO Hugues de Riedmatten and Valerio Pruneri have joined forces with Europe’s leading operator of telecommunications infrastructures, Cellnex Telecom, owner of the biggest optical fiber network in Barcelona and Catalunya, and who manages its services through the Xarxa Oberta de Catalunya (XOC). Together, they applied for funding from the Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (MCIN) and were successfully selected as one of the two in all Spain to carry out projects related to quantum technologies.

The consortium will develop and deploy, for the first time, a quantum repeater node outside the lab, in the Barcelona area, and distribute entanglement between a repeater node at ICFO and the one in Barcelona, using the installed fiber optic network. It will also develop novel practical sources of photonic quantum entanglement and use them to implement cryptography protocols, such as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), establishing a completely secure quantum communication between the two sites to demonstrate a quantum secure link and the effect of entanglement between both nodes. With this, it is also intended to demonstrate that quantum communication technologies can be easily integrated into current classical telecom networks.

During the first in-person meeting, Cellnex representatives from the Global Innovation and New Business Initiatives unit, together with researchers from de Riedmatten (coordinator of the project) and Pruneri’s teams, as well as representatives from the KTT, Projects, and Communications units, discussed the technicalities involved in such a deployment, as well as the various possibilities, opportunities, risks, etc., that the project could encounter over its 3-year lifespan.

In the next few years, many advances will hopefully be seen in the world of quantum communications, and this project is proof that the research community is ready and eager to take quantum technologies from the lab into the real world.

The project PLEC2021-007669 is funded by MCIN/AEI/ 10.13039/501100011033 and by the “European Union NextGenerationEU/PRTR”

Learn more on the ICFO website.