Behind IBM’s quantum computing commercialisation play

Behind IBM’s quantum computing commercialisation play

What IBM’s first round of commercial quantum computing partnerships tells us about the company’s long-term strategy for the technology



On 14 December, IBM revealed the identities of no fewer than 12 of its first clients to sign up for early access to its 20 qubit quantum computer.

Among the first round of clients was Australia’s University of Melbourne, along with, JPMorgan Chase, Daimler AG, Samsung, JSR Corporation, Barclays, Hitachi Metals, Honda, Nagase, Keio University, Oak Ridge National Lab and Oxford University in the UK.

The 12 organisations, which comprise the first clients to tap into the IBM Q early-access commercial quantum computing systems will serve as founding members of the newly formed IBM Q Network.

According to the company, the IBM Q Network has been fashioned as a collaboration of the world’s leading Fortune 500 companies, academic institutions and national research labs working directly with IBM to explore potential practical quantum applications.

Specifically, the IBM Q Network will provide partner organisations with quantum expertise and resources, along with cloud-based access to the most advanced and scalable universal quantum computing systems and technology stack available, starting with the company’s 20 qubit IBM Q system.

IBM said it recently built and measured its first working 50 qubit prototype processor, and anticipates that access to this faster prototype will be offered to participants in the IBM Q Network as part of the next generation IBM Q system.

“IBM sees the next few years as the dawn of the commercial quantum era– a formative period when quantum computing technology and its early use cases develop rapidly,” IBM Research vice president of AI and IBM Q, Dario Gil, said.

“The IBM Q Network will serve as a vehicle to make quantum computing more accessible to businesses and organisations through access to the most advanced IBM Q systems and quantum ecosystem.

“The IBM Q Network will focus on discovering areas of quantum advantage by investigating practical applications of quantum computers with commercial, intellectual and societal benefit,” Gil said.

There is no doubt that IBM’s quantum ambitions are lofty, with the company suggesting its new network is aimed at helping to “foster a growing quantum computing ecosystem based on IBM’s open source quantum software and developer tools”.

Certainly, IBM’s partnership with the first 12 organisations to sign up for early access to its quantum computing systems is set to see some compelling use cases emerge. Samsung, for example, will work with IBM to explore a variety of use cases where quantum computing may impact the future of the semiconductor and electronics industry.

However, it remains to be seen how IBM’s first tentative steps at peddling its quantum technology in the broader market will translate into a full-blown commercial model for the technology, where partners and end users can tap into the technology for bona fide business purposes.

Technology Business Research analysts, Geoff Woollacott and Stephanie Long, suggest that the current tech market is at a transition point, from quantum science to quantum readiness, with the ability to gain quantum advantage or full commercial usefulness superior to what is available with classical computing, still at least three to seven years away.

Moreover, the analysts suggest IBM’s latest partnership announcement not only goes some way towards clarifying the company’s existing quantum capabilities, but also highlights just how little the company can do on its own to create a broader market for the technology.

“IBM cannot adequately address all aspects of developing the market drivers necessary for quantum advantage and actively recruit ecosystem participants to accelerate the time to readiness for quantum computing,” the analysts said in a report.

“The IBM Q Network sits at the heart of the company’s efforts to establish collaborative partnerships with the academic, scientific and large enterprise communities” they said.

According to Woollacott and Long, IBM’s announcement shows that the company recognises the need for open collaboration and IP sharing, and the growth of the collective knowledge base around how to leverage quantum computing for commercial benefit to accelerate the commercialisation of the technology.

IBM’s new quantum ecosystem play

As it stands, the Q Network consists of three participation classifications that are each distinct from one another and which contain still-evolving contractual arrangements around entity participation.

Read more on the next page...

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