Department of Energy researchers working at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory have just set a new world record for data transfer speed. They relied on a technique known as superdense coding, which uses properties of elemental particles such as photons or electrons to store much more information than previously possible.

Image credits Thomas B. / Pixabay.

The Oak Ridge team has achieved a 1.67 bits per qubit (quantum bit) transfer rate over a fiber optic cable, a small but significant improvement over the previous record of 1.63 per qubit.

Awesome! What does it mean though?

One of the most fundamental differences between a traditional computer and a quantum one is how they encode and transmit data. Computers do it in bits — 1s or 0s. Quantum computers do it in qubits, which can be both a 1 and a 0 at the same time — bending minds and limits on stored information at the same time. The team, composed of Brian Williams, Ronald Sadlier, and Travis Humble has used a physical system similar to that seen in the latter, which are widely touted for the speed with which they solve complex problems.

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They were the first to ever transmit superdense code over optical fiber, a major step forward if we want to use quantum communication without re-installing every cable in the world. ORNL’s oak-leaf logo was chosen to be the fist message ever transmitted with this technique, sent between two terminals in the lab. The exact mechanisms of this process sounds more like hardcore sci-fi than actual science but hey — it’s quantum physics.

“We report the first demonstration of superdense coding over optical fiber links, taking advantage of a complete Bell-state measurement enabled by time-polarization hyperentanglement, linear optics, and common single-photon detectors,” the team writes.

The team used run of the mill laboratory equipment such as common fiber optic cable and standard photon detectors, meaning their technique is already suited for practical use.

Right now, the technology remains largely experimental. Potential applications are very enticing though, including a novel, cost-effective way of condensing and transferring dense packages of information at high speed. The main winner in this is of course, the Internet — the tech could allow for anything from less buffering time on Netflix to improved cybersecurity applications.

“This experiment demonstrates how quantum communication techniques can be integrated with conventional networking technology,” Williams said. “It’s part of the groundwork needed to build future quantum networks that can be used for computing and sensing applications.”

The full paper “Superdense coding over optical fiber links with complete Bell-state measurements” has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters, where it was selected as an “Editor’s Suggestion” paper.