Next stop: next generation

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Next stop: next generation

How test & measurement and network encryption enable new quantum technology applications

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Updated on 11-May-2023 🛈
Originally published on 23-Aug-2022

Billions are being invested in quantum technologies by the public and private sectors. Quantum milestones reported on by the media follow in quick succession. Visionary applications in sensor technology, computing and communications appear to be within reach. High-precision test & measurement (T&M) solutions from Rohde & Schwarz enable science, industry and public institutions to perform specific tests on individual quantum systems. And the company's encryption experts are bringing quantum based secure communications out of the labs for use in relevant applications.

Quantum computing, quantum sensor technology and quantum communications – all three technologies have disruptive potential. The amounts of money alone speak volumes about the innovation potential ascribed to quantum technologies. In addition to global commitments of well-known venture capital funds, billions in public resources are also being funneled into national and transnational research funds.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, for example, has set up a 2.6-billion-euro quantum tech fund. The EU Quantum Flagship initiative has a budget of at least 1 billion euros, and the US National Quantum Initiative Act has 2 billion US dollars at its disposal.

Quantum effects have become part of our everyday lives. Modern smartphones, for example, contain several hundreds of billions of transistors, predominantly in flash memory chips. Their function – controlling currents and voltages – is based on the quantum mechanical properties of semiconductors. The first generation takes advantage of natural quantum effects. By contrast, the second generation of quantum technology is based on creating and controlling individual quantum states.

Quantum technology 2.0: what can we expect?

Personalized medicine

Personalized medicine

Personalized medicine: Everyone is different, and so are our illnesses. Cancer cells, for example, differ from one person to the next and often change over time. These differences and changes are already well documented in analytical terms, which has created huge amounts of data. Big Data is the buzzword. But evaluating this data quickly and effectively, to develop personalized forms of treatment, is impossible for conventional computers.

Upgrading supply chains

Upgrading supply chains

Upgrading supply chains: Global flows of goods reach every corner of the Earth and everything is now just a click away: a new tablet for home use or giveaways for a company party. But behind the scenes lies a complex logistics network of manufacturers, service providers, suppliers, merchants, shipping companies, courier services, and much more. The slightest backlog at a container port or change in the price of purchased items means alternatives must be found – preferably in real time. But the complexity of this task is also beyond what conventional computers can handle.

Quantum physics in secure communications

Quantum physics in secure communications

Quantum physics in secure communications: Whether personal or professional, beach holiday snapshots or development proposals for new products, our data and data transmission need to be protected. Companies today consistently name cyberattacks and the resulting consequences as the top risk to their business. Developments in quantum computing are revealing the limits of conventional encryption technologies. Innovations in quantum communications are the key to the future, as they enable reliable detection of unauthorized access. This means you can create a genuine high-security channel for sensitive data.

Fast. Faster. Quantum computing.

Our world is controlled by binary code. Conventional computers process data as sequences of ones and zeroes, true or false, off or on. This applies to everything, from simple text processing to virtual reality in the metaverse. But the world we live and work in is becoming increasingly complex. The amount of data we need to process is growing rapidly. The annual volume of data generated digitally increased tenfold between 2012 and 2020, and is now expected to triple again by 2025. The predicted amount of data is more than 180 zettabytes – or in more familiar terms, 180 trillion gigabytes.

For this reason, conventional computers face two insurmountable obstacles: time and complexity. The larger the volume of data, the more time you need to process that data sequentially. The more complex the problem, the lower the probability that binary code, with only two states, will be able to efficiently calculate a solution. Quantum computers have the potential to overcome both obstacles thanks to insights from modern physics.

Some like it cold

Video

Some like it cold

The Walther Meißner Institute for Low Temperature Research (WMI) is a research institute at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities. It carries out fundamental and applied research in the field of low-temperature and ultra-low-temperature physics. Quantum computing is naturally one area of focus, and the researchers rely on T&M solutions from Rohde & Schwarz and its subsidiary Zurich Instruments to control their systems.

Hand in hand instead of either-or

Like conventional bits, quantum bits (qubits) form quantum mechanical memory units. In addition to just zeros and ones, they can also assume overlapping, mixed states. This simultaneity represents a fundamental technological paradigm shift. We can now run conventional sequential calculation methods simultaneously, which is why a quantum computer can save so much time.

But above all, the new quantum mechanical approach allows us to process new and much more complex questions. However, it’s not an either-or decision, either conventional processing power or quantum computing. Instead, what matters is integrating existing and quantum systems depending on the task.

A quick glance at the research objectives shows just how much work lies in store for applied research teams. Protein folding, for example, is an incredibly important problem and therefore a key area of focus. Finding a solution would allow us to predict the three-dimensional structure of a protein based on its primary amino acid sequence. High hopes are resting on this research as it will likely help us to develop effective personalized medicines, for instance.

Physics versus logic

In the quantum world, a particle can be in two places at the same time. Only when it is observed can you narrow down its location, for example by measuring it. In other words, it has no definitive location until it is observed. This unusual property is also why it is extremely unstable. Instead of using individual physical qubits, which can be very error-prone, multiple qubits are grouped into a logical qubit. However, the challenge here is that you need quantum systems with as many as one million logical qubits in order to answer practical questions, like protein folding. A logical qubit can contain up to 100 physical qubits, but the highest processing capacity is currently only 127 physical qubits.

Sadik Hafizovic
"

Our mission is to help build the quantum computer.

"

Dr. Sadik Hafizovic, CEO and co-founder of Zurich Instruments, a Rohde & Schwarz company

Zurich Instruments is the youngest member of the Rohde & Schwarz family. The T&M market for quantum computing, in particular, holds enormous potential for both companies. Operating and maintaining quantum computers requires a wide range of specific T&M solutions, because RF signals need to be generated and measured with extremely high precision in order to effectively create and record quantum states. Control systems for quantum computers are part of the company’s portfolio.

"Research labs and industry partners rely on our measurement and control systems to operate their quantum computers perfectly. This makes us an innovation accelerator, since quantum researchers don't have to waste time developing their own instruments."
Sadik Hafizovic, CEO and co-founder of Zurich Instruments, a Rohde & Schwarz company

Secure. More secure. Quantum communications

Quantum computers have the potential to push the limits of processing efficiency. But this brings challenges, including secure communications. Pandora's box began opening in the early 1990s, with the onset of the first algorithms that could break conventional crypto algorithms using high-performance quantum computers.

Alternative encryption methods have since come to the fore. There are essentially two main approaches. The first is post-quantum cryptography, which involves entirely conventional encryption methods with one key difference: they can survive attacks from quantum computers unscathed. The algorithms used in this approach are based on theoretical assumptions for which no effective attacks are currently known using either quantum or conventional computers.

The other approach relates to quantum key distribution (QKD). The German Federal Office for Information Security (BSI) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are two of the main drivers of innovation in this area. In an increasingly digitalized world, private-sector customers, and government customers in particular, are dependent on trustworthy IT security solutions. Secure communications networks have become critical infrastructure in advanced information societies.

These innovative solutions are shifting the focus of cryptology. Conventional methods, as well as more recent post-quantum methods, are based on mathematical assumptions, i.e. the idea that certain tasks cannot be calculated with sufficient efficiency. Quantum key distribution, by contrast, is based on physical principles.

Distribute symmetrical keys securely

The aim is to distribute symmetrical keys securely. This is done by transmitting millions of individual photons (light particles) through an optical link, such as a fiber-optic cable. Each photon has its own random quantum state. Any attempt to read or copy the photons will change this state. This change of state can be reliably detected since QKD protocols are designed so that any outside attempt to observe the photons will disrupt the transmission, and every disruption is detected.

The first QKD devices were primarily developed by physics working groups, and commercialization work has been ongoing for several years. Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity is providing and leveraging its extensive expertise in security solutions, as well as its experience in building and implementing secure devices and systems, in numerous research projects.

Innovation through collaboration

Aside from actually developing the technology, interacting with customers and participating in research groups and industry associations is also important. Rohde & Schwarz has therefore been part of many emerging networks from the very beginning. Here are just a few:

Munich Quantum Valley

Munich Quantum Valley (MQV) is an initiative to promote quantum sciences and quantum technologies in Bavaria, funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research. This project aims to build a demonstrator with up to 100 qubits. Zurich Instruments is responsible for a new high-fidelity readout schema for 3D-integrated qubits and for automating calibration routines for quantum processors. Partners include the Walter Meißner Institute, TU Munich, Fraunhofer EMFT, Infineon, Kiutra, Parity Quantum Computing Deutschland, and IQM Deutschland.

https://www.munich-quantum-valley.de/

QSolid

This project aims to build a superconducting quantum computer demonstrator with multiple generations of processors differing in terms of performance, size, precision, and scope of application. Zurich Instruments has been tasked with integrating the quantum computer control system into the quantum stack and optimizing data transmission protocols with high communications bandwidth. Partners from industry with major involvements include Parity Quantum Computing Deutschland, HQS Quantum Simulations, Rosenberger Hochfrequenztechnik, IQM Deutschland, Supracon, Racyics, AdMOS, LPKF Laser & Electronics, Partec, Atotech, and Atos Information Technology.

https://www.q-solid.de/

OpenSuperQ

This project is part of Quantum Flagship, one of the European Union’s largest and most ambitious research initiatives. OpenSuperQ aims to design, build and operate a quantum data processing system with up to 100 qubits. The plan is for it to be permanently available to external users at a central location. Zurich Instruments is responsible for all room-temperature electronics and measurement and control software of the multi-qubit system. The Jülich Research Center in Germany, the Swiss university ETH Zurich, and the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are all key partners.

https://opensuperq.eu/

Botan cryptographic library for long-term security

Together with our partners the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied and Integrated Security (AISEC), TU Berlin and Nexenio, Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity is upgrading the library with crypto algorithms able to resist attacks from quantum computers.

https://botan.randombit.net/

OpenQKD

The European Union has established a consortium of some 40 project partners from 13 member states dedicated to QKD. The aim is to create infrastructure for test and communications networks to make quantum key distribution practicable. The European infrastructure for quantum communications (EuroQCI) is set to be developed further in future follow-up projects.

https://openqkd.eu/

DemoQuanDT

The aim of this project from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is to research, develop and demonstrate a secure QKD network management system within a telecommunications infrastructure. In the course of the project, the cities of Berlin and Bonn will be linked by a quantum communications test route, which will act as a demonstrator. The vision is to establish the longest quantum network in Germany.

https://www.forschung-it-sicherheit-kommunikationssysteme.de/projekte/demoquandt

Quarate

The Quarate project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. It aims to use a quantum advantage to push the limits of conventional radar technology by using quantum microwaves and advanced correlation methods to improve data acquisition. Project partners include the German Aerospace Center (DLR), TU Munich (TUM), and the Walther Meißner Institute (WMI).

https://www.quantentechnologien.de/forschung/foerderung/anwendungsbezogene-forschung-in-der-quantensensorik-metrologie-sowie-bildgebung/quarate.html

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