When Chattanooga power company EPB pursues a new fiber network initiative, it’s worth taking that initiative seriously. Ten years ago, EPB was the first to build a citywide gigabit fiber network, which generated tremendous economic benefits by luring entrepreneurs to the community to use the network. EPB now hopes to do the same with the quantum network it has built.
Although many scoffed when EPB deployed gigabit service, it wasn’t long before other companies and communities began pursuing similar initiatives. Will the same thing happen with quantum networking, which also has the potential to support exciting new opportunities?
Telecompetitor talked to EPB and its quantum network technology provider Qubitekk recently to get their take on this.
Chattanooga Quantum Network
In contrast with traditional fiber optic communications which use light pulses to transmit information in the form of ones and zeros, a quantum network uses entangled light particles which have the potential to carry more complex data, EPB explained in an email to Telecompetitor.
Applications exist in security, finance, healthcare and more. And as has happened with other advances in communications networks, including each new generation of wireless technology, creative entrepreneurs are likely to find new uses for the technology that have not yet been thought of.
EPB is investing $4.5 million over three years in its quantum network, said J.Ed. Marston, vice president of strategic communications for EPB, in an interview with Telecompetitor. The quantum network leverages fiber assets that the company already deployed to support its gigabit network – 200 fiber optic strands, to be precise.
The company is in the process of adding more nodes to the quantum network so that commercial enterprises wanting to use the network as a quantum technology development testbed will be able to do so.
At the recent announcement event for the network, Vicky Gregg, chair of the EPB board, called quantum networking “the next-generation internet.”
If another company or community was interested in taking a calculated risk and building its own quantum network, how difficult would that be?
When we asked Duncan Earl, president and CTO for Qubitekk about that, he started by saying what an incredible company EPB is.
“They have an extensive fiber optic network, a lot of expertise in this area and they’re very forward thinking,” he said of EPB.
He added, though, that as other communities catch on to EPB’s vision and are shown how to do it, the same quantum network opportunity that EPB is pursuing “would be available to all communities that have an investment in a fiber optic asset.”
Earl also noted that some of the funding that the federal government has made available for infrastructure investment could be used for quantum networks, potentially reducing the investment that a network operator would have to make.
Quantum Network Islands
Earl also pointed out that there are other quantum networks in the U.S., but EPB has the only commercial quantum network, at least for now. The others are all academic and research networks.
It’s important to note, though, that for now at least, quantum networks will be isolated islands. A key reason is that developers have not yet created quantum repeaters.
Until that happens, quantum communication is only possible across networks the size of a small metro area such as Chattanooga, Earl said. Other challenges such as quantum transduction, or frequency conversion required to connect different networks together, also must be addressed before a nationwide quantum network could be built, he added.
The Department of Energy envisions such a network eventually being established, however. The DoE outlined that possibility in what it called a “blueprint” for a quantum internet in 2020.
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