By Dan O'Shea posted 02 Nov 2021

Quantum computing has become such an exciting, rapidly evolving field of late with not just the usual researchers rolling out their progress and achievements, but also investors and potential industrial users and application creators converging on the sector.

That makes it the perfect time for quantum researchers and companies to quiet down, buckle down and focus on the practical work of making incremental improvements in the technology. That was the message on the first day of the Inside Quantum Technology Fall Conference from keynote speaker, Robert Sutor, chief quantum exponent at IBM Research, and Lawrence Gasman, president of IQT Research.

“Scale, quality and speed are the three metrics we need to be focusing on,” Sutor said. “Go ahead and celebrate the industry, but we need to show how all of these parts fit together, and each of them must be improved. There are speed bumps in all of these areas, and if anyone tells you we’re going to scale smoothly from here to there, just smile.”

Gasman, who followed Sutor later in the morning with his own talk, added, “The next two years will be more about going back to our desktops and figuring out how to try to get this thing going.”

Sutor called for more transparency from the industry as it makes new claims of scalability, quality and speed. “We have fully public listings of all of our stacks and if someone is not giving it to you information on current metrics, demand it.”

Scalability and quality can be measured in volume and qubits, and with speed measurements, Sutor emphasized the importance of speed testing to employ “real-world scenarios, and what is actually practical. Speed tests should not allow people to extrapolate future speeds. The benchmarks we use should not allow gaming of the system.”

IBM is a proponent of circuit layer operations per second (CLOPS) a way of measuring how many layers of a quantum volume circuit a quantum processing unit can execute per unit of time, according to IBM system configuration documents.

In IBM quantum processors rolling out this year and next year, Sutor said that while the company has continued to increase qubits, it also has focused on making “lots of other things better and better,” such as the leveraging of scalable packaging to improve individual chip operations for this year’s 127-qubit Eagle processor, and the use of scalable I/O techniques supporting the 433-qubit Osprey chip due out next year.

Sutor also said IBM has been putting more work into improving coherence time for chip communications, and striving toward greater fault tolerance.

Meanwhile, Gasman noted that as the industry buckles down to work on the fundamental issues that need to be solved for quantum computing to succeed, it is “entering a new phase and in some ways an odd phase not as exciting as what came before.”

Gasman said the optical networking industry went through something similar two decades ago when a series of innovations unleashed excitement over that sector’s potential, but it took another few years of work and advancements in packet switching to actually unlock that potential.

He also said that the quantum market will need to take even more steps to expand more broadly for it to keep giants like IBM, Google and Microsoft engaged. Currently, IQT Research is forecasting that the total market for quantum processors by 2026 will still be under $160 million.

“Will quantum components be a niche within a niche within a niche, or will it expand to a billion dollar industry?” He speculated that smaller quantum systems, such as rack-based machine and others that don’t require the massive cooling systems of today’s systems could prove to be a growth engine for the processor market.

“Something’s got to happen or this was just a bit of fun,” he said of quantum’s increasing popularity in the last few years. “To get there we will see a lot of these companies get quiet for a while as they get back to work.”

 

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