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Since 1984, various optical quantum key distribution (QKD) protocols have been proposed and examined. In all of them, the rate of secret key generation decays exponentially with distance. A natural and fundamental question is then whether there are yet-to-be discovered optical QKD protocols (without quantum repeaters) that could circumvent this rate-distance tradeoff. This paper provides a major step towards answering this question. Here we show that the secret key agreement capacity of a lossy and noisy optical channel assisted by unlimited two-way public classical communication is limited by an upper bound that is solely a function of the channel loss, regardless of how much optical power the protocol may use. Our result has major implications for understanding the secret key agreement capacity of optical channels - a long-standing open problem in optical quantum information theory - and strongly suggests a real need for quantum repeaters to perform QKD at high rates over long distances.

Publication Source (Journal or Book title)

Nature Communications