I live in a small town. Rather rural, in other words. When I want to visit my godmother, my navigation system first sends me out of the small alley onto the main road. Then onto the country road. And finally, onto the highway - so that it's faster. So far, so good. But what if I plan to make a few stops along the way and on top, my trip coincides with the beginning of the summer vacations, with construction sites, increased traffic, etc.? Then travel planning becomes quite complex.
What does this have to do with quantum computing on the Internet? The "route planning" of data traffic on the Internet is comparable to route planning in road traffic. If you replace "roads" with "lines" and "navigation system" with "router", you get a good picture of the infrastructure of the Internet.
The only difference is that the Internet is much busier than our highways. Here worldwide, more than 100,000 gigabytes per second flow through the infrastructure. That's about as much as the content of 22,000 DVDs - every second. Tendency increasing. This makes reliable data routing even more important.
As in road traffic, the steady increase in (data) traffic is just one factor that has to be considered. Depending on the time of day, usage differs in different regions of the world. Large, digital events or local disasters lead to short-term regional peaks. And if an excavator cuts a cable somewhere along the way during construction work, this route is "temporarily closed" and has to be "bypassed”. Fiber-optic strands connect large cities. Similar to freeways or highways, there are various ways to get from Frankfurt / Main to Berlin, for example. How can data streams be routed best to make sure that the network load is ideally balanced on all routes? Each individual possibility in itself is quickly calculated. The trick lies in the large number of possible combinations (keyword combinatorial optimization). If the computer takes ten different points on a route into account during planning, this results in 3.6 million variants! Even high-performance computers reach their limits.
Quantum computers could be a solution here. They offer dramatically higher computing power than conventional computers. But they are not exactly easy to handle. A quantum computer only operates at around minus 273°C. In addition, it cannot tolerate electromagnetic radiation or vibrations. From today's perspective, this makes the large-scale use of quantum computers still a vision of the future. In the meantime, a technology that mimics the way a quantum computer works, but functions like a classical computer could be helpful. In other words, a technology that combines the robust mode of operation of today's computers with the advantages of quantum computing. Here my colleagues at T-Labs, Telekom's research and development department, have found a solution.
They continuously optimize our network infrastructure. And are always on the lookout for new technologies with which they can further improve the network infrastructure in the coming years. Not an easy task given the complexity of the network. That's why they work in a co-creation approach with many colleagues. Different Group units, such as colleagues from Network Operations and T-Labs are involved. And partners. Like Fujitsu, the Japanese provider of telecommunications solutions.
In this collaboration, Fujitsu has developed a technology that bridges the gap until quantum computers can be deployed on a large scale. This "bridge technology" yields extremely high, "quantum-inspired" computing performance. And it does so without the technical overhead required to operate a quantum computer. In technical jargon, this technology is called "digital annealing."
So now I'm on my way to my godmother’s house. In the navigation system: the route with stopovers. Plus "fastest route" option to avoid road closures, traffic jams, etc. And quite honestly: with the knowledge about quantum computing, combinatorial optimization and data routing, from now on I will look at the various alternatives that are suggested to me in a matter of seconds with completely different eyes ...