The aim of the "Austrian Quantum Fiber Network (AQUnet)" infrastructure project is to make quantum communication possible over long distances. It is being funded by the FFG (the Austrian Research Promotion Agency), coordinated by ACONET (the Austrian Academic Computer Network) and implemented with the support of TU Wien, the universities of Vienna and Innsbruck, and the Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying. A fibre-optic network is to be established and used by researchers to transfer quantum information and carry out precision measurements. But Austria is not alone in this project, as it was planned with similar European initiatives in mind, which together could then represent a role model for a global quantum internet. There are already successful data infrastructure co-operations to build on in Austria, with ACONET already operating a high-performance data network for science, education and culture based on classic data exchange. The obvious next step is therefore to make the move towards quantum communication.
The aim of the project is to establish a fibre-optic network throughout Austria that is suitable for exchanging quantum information. And even if the focus is initially inside Austria, on the east-west axis between Vienna and Innsbruck, there are already suitable partners throughout Europe worth considering for expansion. "Knowledge about quantum technologies is developing at breakneck speed. With an east-west connection within Austria, our project is laying the foundation stone for further links within Europe," says Bernd Logar, Chair of the ACONET Association and CIO of TU Wien. The project can be sure of a good strategic baseline, as, after all, the idea of upgrading the fibre-optic infrastructure in Austria and stepping up research as an innovation leader has already been specifically addressed in the Digital Roadmap Austria, opens an external URL in a new window.
Multi-talented quantum information
There are numerous potential applications for the quantum internet and they are evolving swiftly: secure quantum communication, earthquake warnings and precision measurement are all equally possible. The project has a renowned expert on board as the initiator: Thorsten Schumm from the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics at TU Wien. Reliable quantum communication can also take data security to new and hitherto unknown levels by guaranteeing totally secure data communication. According to the fundamental laws of quantum physics, every attempt to eavesdrop would actually destroy the quantum properties of the information and render it unusable.
All the applications are based on the same principle: generating so-called quantum-entangled photons. These are light particles that cannot be described individually, but which "share" certain physical properties, even if they are moving through the fibres in opposite directions. The major challenge currently still lies in keeping this entanglement stable – especially over longer distances – and using it for technological applications in a controlled and reliable way. This is currently still a long way off, but in-depth research is ongoing between Innsbruck and Vienna.
The "Austrian Quantum Fiber Network - AQUnet" infrastructure project begins in May 2021 and is expected to last five years.