COLUMBUS, OH — Battelle, which has operated the first commercial quantum key distribution (QKD) network in the United States for nearly a year, agreed to a five-year deal with neighboring Dublin to use part of the city’s fiber optic network for free so its scientists can test QKD hardware to prove its real-world effectiveness in safe data transfer. The research will be aided by the developer of the QKD hardware, ID Quantique.
The deal also allows for other researchers and businesses to join Battelle in using dubLINK, a 100-kilometer ring of in-ground fiber optic cable circling central Ohio. Additional fibers in a 25-kilometer ring belonging to Dublin also will be available, allowing researchers in quantum communication to perform real-world testing on advanced hardware on a cable test bed up to 400 kilometers in length.
Enabling QKD Developers to Prove their Hardware
“Dublin is a forward-thinking city, and the people there are generous to allow us to perform this testing,” said Don Hayford, senior research leader in charge of Battelle’s QKD program. “This is an important step forward, not only for testing our hardware and strengthening our network, but for providing a place for QKD developers to prove out their hardware.”
Currently, Battelle is using its own 1 gigabit, 62-kilometer QKD network between its headquarters in Columbus and manufacturing offices in Dublin, one of the first commercial applications in the United States. Information such as financial reports, intellectual property, drawings, designs and more are transferred between those facilities. Plans call for other Battelle offices in central Ohio and Washington, D.C. to be connected in the future, but for now, the use of dubLINK allows for testing in a more robust, real-world setting.
Valuing dubLINK as a Research Platform
“Battelle’s use of the dubLINK fiber optic system for this exciting project reinforces its value as a research platform,” said Dana McDaniel, director of development for the city of Dublin. “DubLINK’s speed and capacity far exceeds the norm. We will continue to leverage dubLINK in this fashion to attract high tech projects and companies who depend on extensive broadband infrastructure.”
Testing will begin early next year and scientists will be examining such specific data transfer subjects as key rates, quantum bit error rates and how QKD signals could merge and co-exist on the same fiber with existing telecommunications.
Battelle experts believe data encrypted by using existing key technologies will become vulnerable once quantum computers are mainstream in the near future. According to recent revelations, some aspects of current secure communications encryption technology already have been compromised by U.S. and British governments. While products based on QKD technology already are being used by banks and governments in Europe — especially Switzerland, home of ID Quantique’s headquarters — they have not been widely deployed commercially in the United States.
Fiber optic cables limit the delivery of photons to about 60 miles, so a place as large as the United States poses an installation problem. In order to extend the protected reach, repeaters, or “trusted nodes,” must be established. “This is one reason why testing on dubLINK is so important. Battelle is developing a scalable architecture with ID Quantique — including these trusted nodes — that will enable QKD to operate at any distance, making large scale implementation possible and practical,” said Hayford.