We present an exact rate analysis for a secret key that can be shared among two parties employing a linear quantum repeater chain. One of our main motivations is to address the question whether simply placing quantum memories along a quantum communication channel can be beneficial in a realistic setting. The underlying model assumes deterministic entanglement swapping of single-spin quantum memories and it excludes probabilistic entanglement distillation, and thus two-way classical communication, on higher nesting levels. Within this framework, we identify the essential properties of any optimal repeater scheme: entanglement distribution in parallel, entanglement swapping as soon and parallel quantum storage as little as possible. While these features are obvious or trivial for the simplest repeater with one middle station, for more stations they cannot always be combined. We propose an optimal scheme including channel loss and memory dephasing, proving its optimality for the case of two stations and conjecturing it for the general case. In an even more realistic setting, we consider additional tools and parameters such as memory cut-offs, multiplexing, initial state and swapping gate fidelities, and finite link coupling efficiencies in order to identify potential regimes in memory-assisted quantum key distribution beyond one middle station that exceed the rates of the smallest quantum repeaters as well as those obtainable in all-optical schemes unassisted by stationary memory qubits and two-way classical communication.
Lars Kamin, Evgeny Shchukin, Frank Schmidt, Peter van Loock