The Quantum Revolution is coming!
Quantum Communications & Computing
How will quantum technologies disrupt wireless?
Today's wireless industry is enabled by two fundamental technologies: silicon VLSI allowing the production of cheap but immensely powerful computers that can even be integrated into handheld terminals; and the software that runs on these computers which makes them ‘universal machines’. The silicon technology behind VLSI depends on bulk solid-state physical principles that can only ultimately be described in terms of the quantum physics of electrons, atoms, and crystals. Essentially the science behind today's information technology dates from the middle of the 20th century.
But now there is a technology revolution in the making which depends on the esoteric quantum principles of entanglement and superposition – ‘Quantum 2.0’.
- Teams all over the world are developing physical systems that rely on quantum superposition of states to perform computing operations in fundamentally different ways, promising to increase computational power by many orders of magnitude. Quantum algorithms may be found to exploit these systems to perform computations that are essentially impossible on ‘classical’ hardware. Could this capability be exploited in wireless infrastructure to implement signal processing well beyond what is possible today?
- Already we know of algorithms that could easily perform the arithmetic needed to crack the best current public key cryptography algorithms – the bedrock of confidentiality on the Internet – once the quantum hardware is available. Once this happens all the information today being distributed and stored will be readable. In preparation for this, ‘quantum safe’ cryptography (QSC) is being developed, and may need to be deployed well before quantum computers are deployed, to protect information today that must be held secure for decades to come.
- Already there are commercial systems of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) that make use of quantum entanglement between pairs of light photons, which will infallibly detect an eavesdropper intercepting the key exchange. These systems may themselves be a foundation for QSC.
- Sub-miniature quantum clocks may render today's network synchronisation methods, dependent on the GPS infrastructure, redundant and offer many orders of magnitude improvement in accuracy.
- Quantum acceleration and gravity sensors of great precision will enable new ways of mapping and navigation and new types of sensor for indoor and underground structures and resources.
But if experience is any guide, the real impact of these new ideas will only emerge when new generations of engineers start to apply them and create products that we can't even guess at today. The science behind these ‘Quantum 2.0’ technologies is esoteric and understood by few. But many technology-based businesses could be threatened, or find new opportunities, as they are developed and become mainstream. And physicists and engineers just starting their careers today could forge unexpected careers by getting involved.
On September 14th 2016 at the Cambridge University Computer Lab, the second Cambridge Wireless Technology Conference will bring together the leaders in Quantum 2.0. The conference is aimed at technology leaders in industry, and young engineers and physicists. For the industry veteran, it will give them an overview of a new world and some grounding in what could be possible, what the opportunities and threats could be. For engineers already working in ICT, it will open their eyes to new possibilities and principles to apply; and for young physicists looking for ways to apply their knowledge it will introduce them to the world of information and communications and a host of hard problems that need to be solved. If just two people from these different worlds meet at the conference, spark ideas off each other and the resulting entanglement results in a great new business, it will be a success.