Amazon Web Services Inc. has partnered with De Beers PLC to make diamonds for quantum networks, according to a new report.
Bloomberg reported today that the partnership involves a De Beers subsidiary called Element Six. The subsidiary has opened a plant in Oregon that can grow millions of artificial diamonds per year for networking purposes. As part of the partnership, Element Six will collaborate with an AWS unit called the Center for Quantum Networking that launched last year.
Quantum networking is a nascent technology that could make it possible to transit data with better security than is available today. According to Bloomberg, AWS hopes to implement the technology in its infrastructure. Quantum networking hardware could be used for tasks such as connecting cloud data centers to one another.
In a data center network, information is encoded into light and then travels over fiber optic cables to its destination. Quantum networks also use light to transmit information. However, they do so in a way that makes it significantly more difficult for hackers to eavesdrop on data traffic without being detected.
Observing subatomic particles changes some of their properties due to a phenomenon known as the observer effect. When a hacker observes the photons that travel through a quantum network’s fiber optic cables, those photons’ state changes. The resulting interference allows the network’s operator to instantly detect that there has been a breach.
Another feature of quantum networks is that they make it difficult for hackers to copy traffic. That reduces the risk of data exfiltration, which further improves security. At the same time, the difficulty of copying information in quantum networks also represents one of the main obstacles to operationalizing the technology.
When data is transmitted as light over a network, it can only travel a relatively short distance before errors emerge. The reason is that the data-carrying light signals weaken as they move further and further away from their source.
To overcome that issue, conventional networks include a component known as a repeater. It captures data-carrying light pulses before they start fading, creates a fresh copy and then sends the copy in place of the original to avoid errors. But in quantum networks, copying data in this manner is impossible, which means that traditional repeaters can’t be used.
Because long-distance data transmission requires repeaters, quantum networks are not suitable for connecting geographically disparate systems. That limits the technology’s usefulness for cloud providers. AWS’ new partnership with De Beers seeks to tackle this obstacle.
As part of the partnership, the cloud giant is developing a new kind of repeater that would work in quantum networks. AWS reportedly plans to make the component from artificial diamonds grown by De Beers’ Element Six unit. Developing a functioning quantum repeater would represent a major milestone in the effort to build production-grade quantum networks.
Antia Lamas-Linares, the head of AWS’ Center for Quantum Networking, told Bloomberg that she expected the technology will be deployed in “years rather than decades.”
AWS’ rivals are also investing in emerging networking technologies. Last December, Microsoft Corp. acquired a U.K.-based networking startup called Lumenisity Ltd. The startup has developed a new type of fiber optic cable that can transmit data faster than current hardware and with better security.
Unlike standard fiber optic links, Lumenisity’s cables are hollow. The startup stated prior to its acquisition by Microsoft that data can travel through the hollow core 50% faster than conventional network equipment. Moreover, the technology makes it possible to protect traffic using quantum encryption algorithms that are more secure than current software.