For a country notorious for its restrictive internet policies, China seems to be taking the lead on developing next-generation internet communications. The city of Jinan is set to become the hub of this quantum communications network that will boost Beijing-Shanghai internet when the project is launched by the end of August. It is set to become the world’s first “unhackable” internet communications network.
Unlike encryption methods that hide the key under difficult mathematical problems, quantum communication and cryptography use entanglement to do the trick. Concretely, the key is embedded in photons (light particles) and sent ahead of the encrypted message — a method called quantum key distribution (QKD).
Communication becomes “unhackable” this way because any attempt to intercept the key would be obvious to the sender and the intended recipient. What’s even more impressive is that China has the technology to extend quantum communications up to 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), as previously demonstrated in a quantum cryptography research in Hefei.
As technology becomes increasingly more complex, computers are becoming increasingly more powerful. This puts current encryption methods in danger, as number-crunching becomes easier with powerful computing power. Number-based keys need to be prolonged and constantly updated to keep up. QKD potentially solves all of this.
Yet, for the most part, it seems China is leaving the West behind in pursuit of this technology. “For a long time people simply didn’t think it was needed,” Myungshik Kim from Imperial College, London, told the BBC. “The mathematical difficulty of the current coding system was so high that it was not thought necessary to implement the new technology.”
Recent security breeches and hacks, of course, reveal the error of this thinking. That’s one reason why China is pursuing quantum communication, but the tech has a number of other possible applications as well.
“We plan to use the [Jinan] network for national [defense], finance, and other fields, and hope to spread it out as a pilot that if successful, can be used across China and the whole world,” Zhou Fei, Jinan Institute of Quantum Technology assistant director, previously told the Financial Times.