China's quantum space race adds to fraught Sino-US relations

In the world of quantum physics and cyber security this is a big deal. China has just successfully tested a quantum satellite network which could lay the foundations for unbreakable communications. “I think we have started a worldwide quantum space race,” said lead researcher Jian-Wei Pan, and he might well be right. But what exactly is a quantum network and how might this latest leap forward impact already tense Sino-US relations?

A long journey

Researchers have, for years, been looking into ways to improve on current encryption systems. The main drawback of them is that with enough computing power encryption can theoretically be cracked. That means that as we develop more and more powerful computers, in time the encryption regarded as highly secure today could be easily undermined by nation states and potentially financially motivated cybercriminals.

Quantum key distribution overcomes these challenges thanks to an idea that sounds like it came straight out of a sci-fi novel. In quantum mechanics, a branch of physics dealing with subatomic particles, pairs of photons created simultaneously remain linked throughout space and time. No matter how far they travel – even light years – or how long they are kept apart, they will share the same properties; something known as “entanglement”.

Everyone’s jumping on the quantum computing bandwagon, but just how close is quantum computing?

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Phil Muncaster

Phil Muncaster has been writing about technology since joining IT Week as a reporter in 2005. After leaving his post as news editor of online site V3 in 2012, Phil spent over two years covering the Asian tech scene from his base in Hong Kong. Now back in London, he always has one eye on what's happening out East.

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