Quantum communication has seen rapid progress towards practical large-scale networks, with quantum key distribution (QKD) spearheading this development. While fibre-based systems have been shown to be well suited for metropolitan scales, suitable fibre infrastructure may not always be in place. Here, we make the case for an entanglement-based free-space quantum network as a practical and efficient alternative for metropolitan applications. We developed a deployable free-space QKD system and demonstrated its use in realistic scenarios. For a representative 1.7-km free-space link, we showcase its ad hoc deployability and achieve secure key rates of up to 5.7 kbps, with 2.5 kbps in direct noon sunlight. By extrapolating experimental data, we show that kbps key rates are achievable even for 10-km distances and multi-user scenarios. We anticipate that our work will establish free-space networks as a viable solution for metropolitan applications and an indispensable complementary building block in the future global quantum internet.
- Enabling Digital Technologies