Physicists take steps toward delivering quantum information to the home

July 18, 2011 by Lisa Zyga feature
A tree network is often used to distribute classical data to homes via fiber optics. Researchers are working on co-propagating quantum information with the classical data to improve security. Image copyright: Iris Choi, et al. ©2011 IOP Publishing Ltd and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft

( -- Today, fiber optics technology transports information in the form of classical data to homes and businesses. But researchers are currently working on ways to combine quantum data with the classical data in fiber optics networks in order to increase security. In a new study, scientists have shown how quantum and classical data can be interlaced in a real-world fiber optics network, taking a step toward distributing quantum information to the home, and with it a quantum internet.

The physicists, Iris Choi, Robert J. Young, and Paul D. Townsend, from the Tyndall National Institute at the University College Cork in Cork, Ireland, have published their study on combining and classical signals in a recent issue of the . While the feasibility of transferring qubits on modern fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks has previously been demonstrated, this is the first time that researchers have investigated how the operation would work in a real-world network.

“I believe that our work constitutes the first really hard-nosed, pragmatic attempt to address the question of whether quantum key distribution (QKD) can work on a real fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network,” Townsend told “The new scheme that we have developed and tested demonstrates that the answer is ‘yes it can.’ I say pragmatic and hard-nosed because we have taken a widely deployed classical FTTH system and have adapted QKD to interwork with it, leaving the design of the classical part of the system essentially unchanged. The alternative approach, sometimes taken in QKD research, is to leave out the classical system completely or to adapt it to work with the QKD. In our view this is not very practical for cost reasons.”

The biggest challenge in transferring in real-world networks is overcoming the crosstalk between the classical and quantum channels. Crosstalk is induced by spontaneous Raman scattering of photons in the optical fiber. Since the classical channels involve strong laser pulses while the is carried by single photons, the crosstalk primarily affects the quantum channel, making the error rate so high that the quantum channel is unable to operate.

Previous research has shown that the Raman noise level can be reduced by optical filtering, although this technique is too expensive for practical use. So Choi, Young, and Townsend have developed and demonstrated a novel noise suppression scheme that involves creating gaps in the scattering, and sending quantum data in these gaps.

First, the researchers chose a configuration that used two different wavelengths for transmitting the quantum and classical channels. In this configuration, only the Raman-scattered light in the “upstream” channel (going away from a user’s house) can generate crosstalk for that user. Then, the researchers identified quiet periods between the bursts of noise generated by Raman scattering in the upstream channel. Using a time and wavelength-multiplexing scheme, the researchers demonstrated that quantum data generated by a quantum key distribution (QKD) scheme can be transmitted during these quiet periods with high fidelity.

While building a purely quantum network could avoid the problem of crosstalk altogether, the researchers explain that combining quantum channels with classical channels is by far the more practical option.

“I see this as an absolute requirement – a ‘must have,’ Townsend said. “That’s because optical fiber network infrastructure is enormously expensive to deploy, so it must last for a long time – perhaps 25 years or more – and be able to support a wide range of current and future, yet to be defined, systems and services. So it is extremely unlikely that an operator would ever deploy a network, or even dedicate fibers within an existing network, purely for quantum communications – it’s just too expensive to do so. Consequently, we have to develop techniques that enable classical and quantum channels to work together on the same network if we want quantum communication systems to become a practical reality.”

By demonstrating that both quantum and classical information can be transmitted on a single optical fiber network in a way that satisfies real-world requirements, the researchers hope to bring quantum information technology one step closer to commercial applications.

“As we have demonstrated, in principle the technology to do this is available now,” Townsend. “However, in reality further research is likely to be required to reduce the cost and improve the performance of certain key parts of the system such as the single photon detectors, before widespread applications emerge. In general, the ‘value proposition’ for QKD on FTTH and other networks is under intensive discussion today, but at the moment no clear consensus has emerged concerning if and when it might be adopted to replace classical encryption techniques. However, as demonstrated by this research, the QKD field is not standing still and systems are continuing to evolve to become more practical, improving the potential for adoption of the technology in the future.”

Explore further: Entanglement can help in classical communication

More information: Iris Choi, et al. “Quantum information to the home.” New Journal of Physics 13 (2011) 063039 DOI:10.1088/1367-2630/13/6/063039


Related Stories

Entanglement can help in classical communication

March 30, 2011

( -- When most of us think of entanglement, our minds jump immediately to quantum communication. "Entanglement has become very well known and useful in quantum communication," Robert Prevedel tells ...

Pure mathematics behind the mechanics

February 7, 2008

Dutch researcher Peter Hochs has discovered that the same effects can be observed in quantum and classical mechanics, if quantisation is used.

Recommended for you

Theory lends transparency to how glass breaks

January 16, 2017

Over time, when a metallic glass is put under stress, its atoms will shift, slide and ultimately form bands that leave the material more prone to breaking. Rice University scientists have developed new computational methods ...

A novel way to put flame retardant in a lithium ion battery

January 16, 2017

(—A team of researchers at Stanford University has found a novel way to introduce flame retardant into a lithium ion battery to prevent fires from occurring. In their paper published in the journal Science Advances, ...

Self-assembling particles brighten future of LED lighting

January 16, 2017

Just when lighting aficionados were in a dark place, LEDs came to the rescue. Over the past decade, LED technologies—short for light-emitting diode—have swept the lighting industry by offering features such as durability, ...

Golden mystery solved

January 16, 2017

Gold is prized for its preciousness and as a conductor in electronics, but it is also important in scientific experimentation.

Phase transition discovery opens the door to new electronics

January 16, 2017

A group of European scientists led by researchers at TU Delft has discovered how phase transitions propagate throughout materials called nickelates. The discovery improves our understanding of these novel materials, which ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Jul 18, 2011
This entangled communication technology might be of interest.


not rated yet Jul 18, 2011
This may be of interest to the DRM crowd, i.e. the big corporations who own the motion pictures and our music. In fact, I expect them to be drooling at news like this.

Now, for anybody else, we have GPG, and regular encryption. Remember, no point in buying a front-door lock that costs more than your house.

Oh, and they should remember that this does not work over the air. So smartphones, wifi connected computers and others can't use this technology. Not for decades, I presume.
not rated yet Jul 19, 2011
Presuming any technical limitation is going to last for decades is presumptuous.
not rated yet Jul 19, 2011
gwrede - I disagree, security is about far more than protecting rich media from piracy. It's true that this type of QKD is limited to fibre based connections but this isn't a big compromise, it would typically limit a hack to a single consumer rather than an entire company, let me explain. You're on a wireless network that's not secured by QKD but the router you've connected to is, as is the connection from it to the business you're shopping from. A hacker could sit close by and scrape your details, but they couldn't sit directly in front of the business and scrape every customer's business. It's not perfect but it's a lot better than using an unsecure network.

This situation is similar to one that is common today; you sit in a coffee shop/airport/hotel on an open wireless network and anyone in your vicinity can 'see' what you're doing, even perform a man-in-the-middle attack on your https traffic. Beyond the router you're connected to however, they have to deal with encrypted traffic

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.