Cisco is working on the development of networks, data centers and Internet technologies that are supposed to work on a quantum basis.
When it comes to hardcore quantum computing, Cisco hasn’t been the first thing that comes to mind. That could change this year. After IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Baidu, Honeywell, Quantinuum and others, Cisco now wants to get more involved in quantum computing. And Cisco isn’t the only networking player doing this. For example, Juniper entered into a technology partnership with the quantum specialist Arquit Quantum in September last year. Together they want to develop a network security technology that should protect against new threats that are possible with quantum computing. Of particular interest to Cisco is the development of quantum-based networks, data centers and internet technologies.
A look at the Technology Predictions 2022 by Liz Centoni, Executive Vice President, General Manager and Chief Strategy Officer at Cisco, shows the importance of quantum computing at Cisco: She ranks quantum computing among the top 5 emerging technologies to be will change our world and change business in the years to come. An assessment with which she is not alone. Gartner assumes that by 2025 almost 40 percent of large companies will have quantum initiatives. And IDC predicts that the global quantum computing market will be worth $8.6 billion by 2027.
Cisco itself initially wants to invest in the development of photonics. It is intended to enable quantum communication and other hardware and software technologies for quantum computing, networks and cryptography. “Our researchers are looking for the next big innovation with the aim of creating new product offerings for Cisco,” explains Ramana Kompella, Distinguished Engineer and Head of Research in Cisco’s Emerging Tech and Incubation Group, explaining the company’s commitment.
“Quantum networks could enable a new type of secure connection between digital devices and make them impregnable to hackers,” continues Chief Strategy Officer Centoni. “This could lead to better protection against fraud in transactions. In addition, this higher quality of secure connectivity could also protect voice and data communications from interference and eavesdropping. All of these possibilities will change the internet as we know and use it today.”
In detail, Cisco seems to be working on two scenarios when it comes to quantum computing: One is the construction of quantum data centers that use classic local network concepts to connect quantum computers so that they can communicate with each other to solve big problems. The other scenario is a quantum-based network that transmits quantum bits (qubits) from quantum servers at high speed. “We envision a hybrid network environment that supports both classical signaling and other technologies, and uses photonics to transmit qubits from server to server,” explains Kompella.
Cisco is convinced that photonics will play a central role in the realization of quantum computers on a large scale – either for single-chip processors or for the construction of a distributed computing system. Photonic networks could enable significantly better scalability of quantum computers. Furthermore, the photonics would allow a continuous connection between the modules, which would lead to a significant increase in the computing power of the system. Cisco has already entered into a partnership with the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) to develop corresponding photonic quantum chips.
Quantum networks are a strategic top priority in the USA (c) White House
Despite all the euphoria about the potential of quantum networking in a data center, it must also be said that the technology is still in its infancy. One seems to have gone further with the idea of the quantum internet. Chinese researchers want to have implemented the world’s first integrated quantum communication network as early as 2021. The network linked over 700 ground-based optical fibers with two ground-to-satellite links to achieve quantum key distribution (QKD) over a distance of nearly 3,000 miles.
Cisco itself is on board with the US Center for Quantum Networks (CQN). Quantum networks already have strategic importance in the USA. In the strategy paper “A STRATEGIC VISION FOR AMERICA’S QUANTUM NETWORKS”, the White House states that, similar to 1969, ARPANET – the forerunner of the Internet – wants to play a leading role in the development of the quantum Internet.
This is how a quantum-based Internet could work in the future (c) Center for Quantum Networks (CQN)
The CQN has set itself the goal of developing the first quantum network that enables fully error-corrected quantum connectivity with 10 mega qubits/s over 100 km simultaneously between multiple user groups with the help of quantum repeaters. Quantum repeaters are special quantum processors that enable high-speed communication of qubits (quantum bits that live in the superposition of 0 and 1) over a long distance. Equipped with quantum memories and spin-photon interfaces to connect them to modern telecommunications infrastructure, the quantum repeaters will be tested, validated and improved in two testbeds (in Tucson and Boston).
A tender for quantum technologies from last year shows how serious Cisco is about quantum development. In it, the group is looking for one of the technologies that are required around quantum computing:
Photon sources and detection technology, photonic chip fabrication methods and materials, quantum network applications, quantum cryptography beyond QKD, and security of quantum cryptography protocols.