OARnet, Ohio State partner on quantum network initiative to boost state cybersecurity

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Apr 4, 2024) — 

OARnet will partner with The Ohio State University on a new project, funded by a $750,000 grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education (ODHE), to build long-distance quantum networks that will increase information security in the state.

The grant is part of the latest round of awards from ODHE’s Third Frontier Research Initiative, which provided a total of $3.3 million to four higher education institutions for innovative new projects in December.

The project, led by Ronald Reano, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Ohio State, is designed to double the distance that quantum information can securely travel across the state fiber-optic network. As organizations in Ohio strive to advance their work in quantum computing and networking, technology experts are seeking to remove any transmission vulnerabilities in the network to strengthen cybersecurity.

“We are very excited to have the opportunity to investigate engineering solutions to address major cybersecurity challenges involving fiber-optic networks that utilize quantum technologies,” Reano said.

The project team will test how a new strategy for distributing quantum keys across the state’s network could allow for secure quantum communications between Columbus and cities such as Cleveland, Toledo and Cincinnati with higher education institutions and research organizations such as the NASA Glenn Research Center and the Cleveland Clinic.

In an approach called measurement-device-independent quantum key distribution (MDI-QKD), a technology placed centrally in Columbus will communicate to other locations in Ohio, distributing secure keys for information encryption. This strategy is designed to overcome the transmission loss that occurs when locations that are too far apart—more than 120 kilometers—communicate across the fiber-optic network. By expanding the distance that entities can safely connect across Ohio, the project will support advancements in state industry and research innovation.

After completing controlled laboratory experiments, the team will conduct field demonstrations of the technology using OARnet’s fiber-optic network between Columbus and Dayton. OARnet will provide its existing fiber assets, facilities, test equipment and network capacity for the project.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with our partners at Ohio State to develop a new program that will not only support our current quantum technology initiatives but also will allow Ohio to grow and become a national leader in this field,” said Pankaj Shah, executive director of OARnet, which is part of ODHE’s Ohio Technology Consortium. “As more higher education institutions and statewide clients become engaged in the emerging field of quantum information science, OARnet’s existing fiber and classical networking technologies will serve as an important resource to facilitate research testbeds as we eventually transition to native quantum networking infrastructure in the future.”

Hardware developed through this project will serve as a research test bench, managed by Ohio State’s Center for Quantum Information Science and Engineering (CQISE), that will be accessible to academic, industry and government researchers throughout the state, said Reano, co-director of CQISE.

In addition to Reano and Shah, the project team includes Ezekiel Johnston-Halperin, a professor in the Department of Physics at Ohio State and co-director of CQISE, and Mark Fullmer, chief technology officer for OARnet.  

Since 1987, OARnet has delivered technology-based solutions that reduce costs, increase productivity and improve customer service. As a division of the Ohio Department of Higher Education's Ohio Technology Consortium (OH-TECH), OARnet serves Ohio's education, health care, public broadcasting and government communities. Other members of the consortium include the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC) and the Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK).