China’s newest tech can offer quantum of security

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-22 0:28:01

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

China's stock markets have been stabilizing in recent days after the rollercoaster ride at the start of the year. And one bright point has been stocks related to quantum communications, showing renewed investor interest in the new technology, which will play an important role in creating a safety net for the increasingly information technology-savvy economy.

The fact that China has taken an early lead in developing the technology and translating it into real-world quantum communications projects should give added fuel to the market hype about the apparently unfathomable yet promising investment theme.

Thus far, the practical application of the technology has mostly featured quantum key distribution, which uses tricks of quantum mechanics to enable encryption codes or keys shared between two parties that are written upon single photons of light. If an eavesdropper tries to hack the codes, they will immediately be detected because of having caused disturbance to the encoding of the photon.

This means that perfect security could be provided, easing concerns that the existing encryption-based security framework could be rendered ineffective by the super-fast quantum computers that are being developed.

Given that the US National Security Agency is reportedly building a quantum computer capable of cracking encryption codes, it is understandable that to effectively contain this potential security threat, other nations need to either catch up with the US in developing their own quantum computers or find solutions that will be secure against quantum computers.

China has apparently opted for the latter, with the deployment of quantum communications technology projects being mentioned in the country's 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20) as part of a batch of tech projects of national strategic importance that are being planned during the period.

Developing quantum communications has to date been almost entirely a government initiative aimed at safeguarding the nation's information security.

According to media reports, China is set to complete installing the world's longest quantum communications network, a 2,000-kilometer line linking Beijing and Shanghai, by 2016.

 Quantum encryption keys will be transmitted through the fiber-optic highway to totally secure information from eavesdroppers. By 2030, China will reportedly put into place a global quantum communications network, giving the country an advantage in terms of making extensive, large-scale use of the technology. 

It is envisaged that with more cities being involved in building the unhackable communications network, commercial use of the technology will also be expected to gain steam so as to unlock potentially massive investment opportunities, covering the manufacturing of key network equipment and the building and operation of both public networks and private networks featuring quantum encryption.

The size of the country's market for various applications of quantum communications technology will hit 10 billion yuan ($1.54 billion) in a few years, according to a recent forecast by Founder Securities.

By 2025, that figure is projected to grow to more than 100 billion yuan, taking into account the country's future exports of the technology alongside the "Belt and Road" project, as it is highly likely that quantum communications networks will become mainstream not only in China, but in many other countries around the globe.

Relevant equipment manufacturers and network solution providers will need to prepare for a foray into the arena, but private investors seeking a fast return on investing in stocks related to the technology should perhaps be more cautious.

Despite a promising early start, China will need to delve deeper into the technology, which means greater efforts will be needed for there to be broader use of quantum key distribution. More endeavors will also be needed in the field of quantum teleportation, which may in the future turn science fiction into reality and truly redefine how we communicate.

Having said that, quantum communications, which should theoretically allow content to be transmitted, have so far been limited to data encryption.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.

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