Telstra to offer quantum computing ‘as a service’

Chief scientist outlines telco's plan to give customers quantum services and support

Telstra wants to offer quantum computing 'as-a-service', the telco's chief scientist Hugh Bradlow revealed last night.

"[There are] a whole lot of applications of quantum computers which our customers are going to want to use. And I can assure you they're not going to walk in on day one and know how to use these things so we want to be able to offer it as a service to them whereby they can use it to run their applications," Bradlow told a Vivid festival event in Sydney yesterday.

"But they will need a lot of hand holding and they are not going to run the equipment themselves because it's complicated, it requires dilution fridges and all the equipment," Bradlow continued.

Asked by Computerworld if this meant Telstra would one day provide 'quantum-as-a-service', Bradlow, the telco's former CTO, said: "That's our aim".

At the end of 2015 Telstra announced it would invest $10 million in the Centre for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T) at the University of New South Wales over five years.

The CQC2T – which has also received funding from the federal government and Commonwealth Bank of Australia – is part of a global race to build a quantum computer, and is pursuing a silicon-based approach. 

There are a number of promising approaches to building quantum bits (qubits); Google and IBM back the superconducting loop method while Microsoft is ramping up its own 'soup to nuts' effort using as yet unproven topological  qubits.

We just want one

Despite Telstra's investment, Bradlow said the telco was agnostic about what kind of quantum computer it would eventually make use of.

"At the end of the day we just want a quantum computer," he said. "We do hope Michelle's [Simmons, director of the CQC2T] team will win and we put our money on it because we think it's got the best odds. It's not just a random bet. But we're keeping across everything that's out there.

"The past year I've probably visited every major group in the world and they all have very different views and by seeing multiple views you get a much better perspective on the whole system."

In a Telstra whitepaper Long-term Technology, published in March, the company hinted at the now confirmed plan.

"The potential that quantum computing will be available via cloud networks and other forms of broadband infrastructure invites the possibility that clusters of programmers and users in all parts of Australia will be able to access this technology," the whitepaper stated.

IBM made its own five qubit quantum computer available to research institutions via the public cloud in May last year. Since then the Quantum Experience service has hosted 40,000 users, more than 200,000 experiments, and resulted in 15 research papers being written by the external community.

Big Blue said its commercial 'Q' quantum computing program will deliver paid quantum computing consulting and services to users in the next few years.

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