Developing quantum computers capable of performing operations many orders of magnitude faster than conventional computers has long been a sought-after goal for computer scientists and physicists. However, so far the technology has been restricted by the unfeasibility of quantum communication, which relies on a phenomenon known as “entanglement” -- once famously derided as “spooky action at a distance” by Albert Einstein.

Now, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have achieved a significant breakthrough in the field by “teleporting” -- or transferring quantum information from one photon to another -- over a distance of more than 60 miles via an optical fiber. This distance is four times more than the previous record achieved by researchers last September.

Despite its gratuitous use in science fiction, quantum teleportation is nothing like the one popularized by “Star Trek.” In real life, teleportation refers to instantaneous transmission of quantum state, rather than actual matter. This is made possible through entanglement, wherein two physically separate subatomic particles behave as if they are connected, and when one particle is disturbed, it instantly affects the entangled partner. 

What makes the latest development significant are the real-world implications the technology has. From development of super fast quantum computers to quantum crypotography, feasible and reliable teleportation has the capability to revolutionize communications.

“Teleportation is useful in both quantum communications and quantum computing, which offer prospects for novel capabilities such as unbreakable encryption and advanced code-breaking, respectively,” the authors of the study detailing the findings, published Wednesday in the journal Optica, said in a statement.

Quantum encryption and communication exploit an innate and inexplicable property of subatomic particles -- they do not have a defined state until they are measured. And, once their state is set, it is instantly duplicated in the state of their entangled partner. Quantum cryptography, for instance, involves sharing a secret key -- created using quantum states -- that will be immediately destroyed, or changed, if someone tries to intercept it. In theory, this can create completely unbreakable codes.

Moreover, the development also paves the way for the creation of a “quantum Internet” of sorts that would be faster, more efficient and secure than that currently employed by the networks.