Quantum computing lab
Matthijs Rijlaarsdam
CEO
July 15, 2024
5
minutes to read

Specialisation in Quantum Computing: Lessons from the Classical Chip Industry

Introduction to Quantum Computing Specialisation

In our first article, we explored the evolution of quantum open architecture from academia to industry. In this article, we’ll talk about the critical role of specialisation in the maturing of the quantum computing industry.

Specialisation Is an Economic Principle

Specialisation occurs in maturing industries. It is driven by 1) an (exponential) increase in the complexity of the individual components that make up a system and 2) by high fixed costs, and low marginal costs. 

Take for example the classical chip making industry. Before Intel was founded in 1968 by Gordon Moore and Bob Noyce, players such as IBM were vertically integrated: they made all most parts of the IBM 701 mainframe, including the processor, in-house.

As CPUs increased exponentially in size thanks to Moore’s law, developing the next generation also increased exponentially in difficulty. For example, whilst the first ICs could be designed by hand and literally “taped out”, nowadays you need software from gigantic companies such as Cadence. This decreases the number of parties that can afford to develop these in-house (take for an extreme example, ASML).

In addition, chipmaking is a largely fixed cost business: you need expensive machines, but whether you make 1 or 100 chips with that machine barely influences your costs (so you better make and sell 100). This drives a need for volume: if you sell 100x more chips than your competitor, you can be approximately 100x more affordable. Both these effects drive specialisation. 

Specialisation allows companies to focus on perfecting individual components of quantum systems. This approach ensures that a best-in-bread approach to each part is available to customers in the space, contributing to the overall efficiency of building quantum computers. QuantWare, which specialises in developing quantum processing units (QPUs), exemplifies how specialisation drives this maturing of the value chain.

Creating an Ecosystem of Technologies to Advance Quantum Computing

Collaboration between specialised companies to ensure compatibility and create an ecosystem of technologies is key to advancing quantum technology. By working together, we can combine our expertise, leading to innovative solutions that would be challenging to achieve independently. 

Competition among specialised industry players also fuels innovation. As companies strive to improve their products and services, the overall quality of quantum computing components increases. This competitive environment encourages a high rate of innovation, benefiting the entire quantum ecosystem.Standardisation within the quantum computing industry is key for both collaboration and competition. By adhering to common standards, companies can ensure that their components are compatible with others, facilitating easier integration and maintenance.

Standardisation also enables the industry to scale more efficiently, as components can be swapped and upgraded without extensive modifications. For instance, the partnership between QuantWare and QuantrolOx ensures the compatibility of their advanced tuneup software with our QPUs, resulting in more robust and scalable quantum systems. Another example of this is QuantWare's partnership with QBlox, as well as Quantum Machines, that specialise in scalable control hardware. Control hardware manages the signals that manipulate quantum bits (qubits) within the quantum processor. The integration of QuantWare's QPUs with QBlox's and Quantum Machines’ control hardware ensures high fidelity quantum operations.

Sovereign Capabilities and Quantum Open Architecture

The open architecture model offers significant strategic benefits for governments that want to build out sovereign capabilities. Local ecosystems can leverage this approach to develop quantum systems using domestic resources and expertise, ensuring that critical infrastructure remains under national control. This strategy not only supports local industries but also stimulates economic growth by fostering innovation and creating high-tech jobs.

By enabling the mix and match of components from different providers, open architecture mitigates the risk of dependency on a single supplier. This enhances the resilience of local quantum ecosystems. For instance, governments can procure systems that integrate components from various local companies, rather than relying on a "black box" solution from a single foreign provider. This approach ensures that the supply chain is diversified and less vulnerable to disruptions.

Additionally, fostering an open architecture ecosystem encourages continuous improvement and competition among local suppliers. This competitive environment drives technological advancements, making the overall system more robust and adaptable. Governments can also ensure that the technology developed aligns with national security and strategic interests, further strengthening sovereign capabilities.

Open architecture allows for greater flexibility and scalability. Governments can upgrade or replace individual components without overhauling the entire system, ensuring that the infrastructure remains cutting-edge and cost-effective. This modular approach is particularly beneficial in the rapidly evolving field of quantum technology, where new advancements can quickly render older systems obsolete.

The Emergence of System Integrators

System integrators play a crucial role in the quantum open architecture framework. They bring together various specialised components to create cohesive, functional quantum systems for end customers. 

Companies like TreQ and Partec exemplify this role, collaborating with multiple quantum hardware and software providers to deliver integrated solutions. TreQ's expertise in system integration ensures that all components work together optimally to establish highly-performing quantum systems.

Specialised integrators focus solely on integrating a system from off-the-shelf  parts. As standards start to emerge, this reduces integration risks, improves system performance, and accelerates deployment. Consequently, this approach leads to more reliable and scalable quantum systems.

Conclusion

Specialisation is pushing the maturity of the quantum value chain. This is essential for the broader quantum computing ecosystem, enabling companies to innovate and develop advanced quantum systems more efficiently.