Einstein called the notion of entangled quantum particles “spooky action at a distance.” Now, some scientists call it a way to build a more secure, faster internet.

The latest advance in the field comes from European researchers, who have published the results of a May experiment in which they “transported” quantum particles 88 miles between two Canary Islands. “Transported” goes in quotes here because what moved from one island to another wasn’t actually a subatomic particle. Instead, they moved the particle’s characteristics, essentially turning a distant bit of matter into an exact copy of the local one.

The experiment marks the longest distance ever traversed with this kind of technology. The previous record, a bit over 60 miles, was set earlier this year by Chinese scientists.

The European team said their work required a number of technical innovations. Where past experiments have used optical fiber, the distance involved here would have resulted in too much degradation of the signal. Instead, they used lasers.

For all the science fiction nerds out there, the research may bring to mind the ansible, first envisioned by Ursula Le Guin, which lets far-flung worlds communicate instantaneously. Sadly, that’s not on the horizon yet. Because of the mind-boggling characteristics of quantum particles, it’s essentially impossible for someone on the receiving end of a quantum communications device to understand the information being sent without an additional, slower-than-light message that allows for translation.

Nonetheless, the scientists say the technology is developing to the point where it may have practical uses before long. The next step is extending the communication distance to allow messages from Earth to a satellite, or from satellite to satellite. Although the distances involved in that kind of experiment would be much larger, the signal would be able to move more freely in space because there’s less atmosphere to plow through.

Getting that kind of communication functioning could create the basis for a worldwide “quantum internet.” One of the big advantages over the old-fashioned internet would be that, because quantum particles can’t be observed without being changed, any attempt at hacking messages would be instantly obvious. The technology could also lead to faster data analysis with “quantum computers.”

Image credit: IQOQI/Vienna