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Quantum Computing Industry Review: Q4 2019

After we waved goodbye to 2019 and ushered in a new decade, in which many believe quantum computers will become mainstream, we look back at the major developments that occurred in the final quarter of last year.

Microsoft brings quantum computing to Azure

In a move that will make access to quantum computers more widely available, Microsoft has announced that it will be offering its quantum computing services from the cloud. Described as “a full-stack, open cloud ecosystem that will bring the benefits of quantum computing to people and organizations around the world”, Azure Quantum will support platforms from 1Qbit, Honeywell, IonQ and QCI as well as leverage Microsoft’s Q# language.

It was only a matter of time before the technology giant made an announcement of this kind, as it joins IBM in looking to implement quantum computing as a service in the cloud (a feat IBM are using the IBM Q network to achieve). Further details are somewhat limited at this time, though the company is taking requests to become an early adopter.

Amazon enters the quantum computing business too

Wherever the likes of Microsoft, IBM and Google go, Amazon will not be far away. This was once again the case when, soon after Microsoft’s announcement, the company entered the quantum computing race with a cloud service of its own.

Named Amazon Bracket, the service will provide access to technology from D-Wave, IonQ and Rigetti, with more vendors to come. Notably, Amazon has elected to provide access to these systems solely via its partners, rather than compete with Google and IBM by manufacturing quantum computers of its own.

It is clear to see that, for now at least, the company views quantum computing being available exclusively as a cloud service, with AWS’ Jeff Barr writing in a blog; “I think it is safe to say that most organizations will never own a quantum computer, and will find the cloud-based, on-demand model a better fit. It may well be the case that production-scale quantum computers are the first cloud-only technology.”

Russia joins the race for practical quantum technologies

The Russian government has announced a 50 billion roubles (US$790 million) investment in quantum research over the next five years. Part of a wider (256 billion rouble) programme for R&D in digital technologies, the funds were described as “a real boost” by Aleksey Fedorov, a quantum physicist at the Russian Quantum Center (RQC).

As Fedorov goes on to admit, Russia has some catching up to do as the nation joins the US, European Union and China; all of which have announced significant investments in their own quantum projects in recent times.

IT professionals are worried by the threat of quantum computing

As we’ve mentioned in previous reviews, 2019 has seen a strong focus in raising awareness of both the benefits and threats of quantum computing; especially among the C-suite and IT communities.

These efforts appear to be having an effect after DigiCert’s latest Post Quantum Crypto Survey found that IT professionals are placing increased emphasis, and budget, on protecting their infrastructure from the threats of quantum computing.

Of those surveyed, 71% believe that quantum computing poses a “somewhat” to “extremely” large threat in the future, while 55% believe it poses this today. Moreover, 59% of enterprises have, or expect to have, a “somewhat” to “extremely” large budget in order to combat this threat.

Intel speeds up quantum development with “Horse Ridge” cryogenic control chip

Intel took a step into enabling commercially viable quantum computers when it announced a first-of-its kind cryogenic control chip. Named “Horse Ridge”, the chip promises to speed up the development of full-stack quantum computers by enabling control of multiple qubits.

Jim Clarke, Intel’s director of Quantum Hardware, spoke about the importance of this development; “While there has been a lot of emphasis on the qubits themselves, the ability to control many qubits at the same time had been a challenge for the industry.”

“Intel recognized that quantum controls were an essential piece of the puzzle we needed to solve in order to develop a large-scale commercial quantum system. That’s why we are investing in quantum error correction and controls. With Horse Ridge, Intel has developed a scalable control system that will allow us to significantly speed up testing and realize the potential of quantum computing.”

ITU looks at how quantum physics will shape technology

With the world preparing for the quantum future, ITU spoke with Philipp Gerbert, Managing Director & Senior Partner at Boston Consulting Group, to explore the challenges and opportunities the technology will bring.

Gerbert outlined quantum sensors, communication (QKD) and computing as the three major sub-fields of the technology; stating that “of the three, ultimately, quantum computing is the most important, but currently the least mature” and placed importance on quantum algorithms; “now it’s the time to invest in the intellectual property of quantum algorithms, and to try them out”.

He also spoke of AI and climate change as two big developments we will see over the next decade, and how quantum computing could play a part in these.

Importantly, Gilbert discussed the security challenges quantum will bring; “The big elephant out there is quantum computing will ultimately crack the current encryption”. Quantum communication is underlined as a viable solution, but ITU highlights that “the development of ITU standards codifying a common set of best practices for QKD network implementations. These best practices will be followed by ITU standards providing for the interoperability of the QKD equipment produced by different vendors.”

Could LEGO be the secret to building quantum computers?

In one of the more light-hearted stories of 2019, researchers from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom cooled LEGO bricks to nearly absolute zero to see how they’d behave. The results were positive, with the team concluding that the bricks are an effective insulator at very low temperatures.

So does this mean we’ll be building LEGO quantum computers in the lab soon? Not quite, unfortunately. Rather, the researchers think that a composite vacuum/ABS material like the bricks are made from could be used at ultra-cold temperatures; such as those many quantum computers require to operate in.

IDQ in the news

Once again we’ve been involved in some exciting projects and are pleased to make some great announcements about our products.

We were happy to announce that, through a partnership with SK Telecom and IDQ, IT&E would be bringing quantum cryptography to the Marianas. IT&E’s network will soon be equipped with our quantum key distribution technology to strengthen the security of 5G and LTE data transmission and reception.

Meanwhile, our new partnership with ADVA now allows us to integrate the Cerberis3 QKD System with its FSP 3000 platform to provide long-term security for critical data transported over optical networks.

This announcement coincided with the news that the Cerberis3 now supports any kind of complex network topology; including point-to-point, relay for longer distances, ring or hub & spoke.

Finally, it was a privilege to unveil that the Quantis QRNG Chip had obtained AEC-Q100 certification, demonstrating its resistance to harsh automotive environments. It also makes the chip ideal for integration into automotive security applications, where its compact size and resistance to external environmental perturbations are critical.

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