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Vodafone taps up IBM to get ahead in quantum computing

UK-based Vodafone hopes to maximise the benefits – and avoid the pitfalls – of quantum computing.

To that end, on Tuesday the telco group partnered with IBM to tap the latter’s extensive quantum computing expertise.

The new relationship has three strands to it, one of which is that Vodafone will explore how IBM’s quantum technology could potentially be applied to various telco use cases. Quantum computing offers an exponential improvement in performance, which could deliver efficiencies to any number of business processes and operations.

“Partnering with IBM provides us with access to quantum technology which has the potential to provide incredible network optimisation. It’s the sort of innovation that existing computers will never achieve alone, allowing us to save energy, reduce costs and give customers great connectivity in more places,” said Luke Ibbetson, head of group R&D at Vodafone, in a statement on Wednesday.

However, there is also a well-documented downside to quantum computing, which is that it will render obsolete our current methods of data encryption. It is why so many companies – telcos included – are researching quantum cryptography. Vodafone is one of them. Alongside IBM, in late September it became one of the first members of the GSMA’s Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce. The group’s mission is to define policy, regulation and operator business processes that will safeguard telco networks in the era of quantum computing.

Under this week’s new IBM partnership, Vodafone will look at how IBM’s Quantum Safe cryptography technology can be applied to its networks and IT systems, which will hopefully ward off the threat of a quantum computer gaining access to its infrastructure.

Quantum security is a sufficiently serious issue that telcos and tech firms all over the world are looking into it. Recent highlights include the EU-backed quantum network system architecture for Europe (QSAFE) consortium. Comprised of Deutsche Telekom, Telefónica, defence giant Thales and its satellite arm Thales Alenia Space, and the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), late last year it drew up a blueprint for quantum-secure network architecture. More recently, in April BT and Toshiba together with consulting firm EY launched what they claimed to be the world’s first quantum-secured metro network.

“Investing in quantum-safe cryptography, now, also gives us the peace of mind that our infrastructure and customer data will also always be secure as we explore the benefits of quantum computing,” Ibbetson said.

The third strand of the partnership will see Vodafone tap IBM’s expertise to develop its in-house quantum technology skills. Vodafone plans to recruit quantum computing experts as well.

“Vodafone, as a leading mover in telco, is setting the example for their industry by exploring quantum computing applications for their business operations, as well as applying quantum-safe cryptography protocols to protect their long-term data and systems,” said Scott Crowder, VP, IBM quantum adoption and business development.

The partnership was announced at the IBM Quantum Summit, during which the tech giant unveiled its newest quantum processor. Called Osprey, it packs in 433 qubits, triple the number of its predecessor, Eagle, which itself was only launched last year.

“The new 433 qubit ‘Osprey’ processor brings us a step closer to the point where quantum computers will be used to tackle previously unsolvable problems,” said Dr. Darío Gil, SVP of IBM and director of research, in a separate statement.

In addition, IBM said its latest quantum supercomputer, Quantum System Two, is due to go online in 2023. The supercomputer combines the processing power of multiple quantum computers to offer vast computational capacity.

“We are continuously scaling up and advancing our quantum technology across hardware, software and classical integration to meet the biggest challenges of our time, in conjunction with our partners and clients worldwide,” Gil said. “This work will prove foundational for the coming era of quantum-centric supercomputing.”

 

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