Ericsson powers up quantum computing research hub in Canada

Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has teamed up with the University of Ottawa and the Université de Sherbrooke to establish a new Quantum research hub in Montreal.

Andrew Wooden

March 22, 2023

5 Min Read
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Swedish kit vendor Ericsson has teamed up with the University of Ottawa and the Université de Sherbrooke to establish a new Quantum research hub in Montreal.

The research hub will intellectually chew on quantum-based algorithms for accelerating processing in telecom networks and distributed quantum computing, we’re told. Ericsson will buddy up its researchers with post-doctoral fellows at the collaborating universities to carry out fellowships at Ericsson as part of the research.

Quantum computing gets its name because it’s based on quantum mechanics, and is pitched as the next big leap forward in computing because it should be able to exceed the processing power of even the most powerful current supercomputers. The release cites a study commissioned by the NRC in 2020 which claims by 2045 the Canadian quantum industry will be worth $139 billion and account for 209,200 jobs.

“Canada is a pioneer and global leader in quantum research, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the National Quantum Strategy,” said Jeanette Irekvist, President, Ericsson Canada. “Similarly, our researchers and experts at Ericsson have long been studying how to best innovate quantum technologies into communications networks.

“It’s our hope that this first-of-its-kind program and partnership with the University of Ottawa and the University of Sherbrooke will help translate quantum research into commercial innovations that generate economic benefits and support the adoption of made-in-Canada solutions by businesses. This will foster our mutual strength in quantum research, innovation and commercialization, and the growth and success of the Canadian ecosystem.”

François-Philippe Champagne, Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry added: “Quantum technologies will shape the course of our future and Canada is at the forefront, leading the world in this emerging technology. As a long-trusted partner in Canada’s technology ecosystem for 70 years, we are encouraged by the establishment of Ericsson Canada’s Quantum hub in Montreal and look forward to fostering partnerships between industry, government and academia that will strengthen our mutual research and cement Canada’s competitive advantage for decades to come.”

Many governments have pledged investment into the development of quantum computing – earlier this month the UK government announced its Quantum Strategy which amounts to £2.5 billion investment over the next 10 years. The assertion is that countries that break out ahead in developing and implementing quantum technologies will have advantages in terms of productivity, economic growth, health, sustainability, and national security.

“This ten year plan will fund new frontiers of quantum research, support and develop our growing quantum sector, prepare our wider economy for the quantum revolution and ensure that the UK leads internationally in the regulation and ethical use of quantum technologies,” said Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, in a ‘ministerial forward’. “We will make the UK the home for cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, the best place in the world to start and grow a quantum business, a leading voice in the international quantum and tech community, and a magnet for international quantum talent.”

Sounds like there are worse things to spend public funds on, then. However some have pointed out an impediment to getting ahead in the great quantum race could be a lack of workers skilled in the area.

“Optimism around quantum needs to be grounded in reality as much as strategy,” said Harvey Lewis, Partner of Client Technology & Innovation at EY. “An important reality at the moment that needs to be holistically addressed across an array of emerging technologies is of course skills. Human-centred innovation is critical to making any transformative technology a success and we must address the shortfall in skills and talent in order for technologies like quantum and AI to be used successfully.”

Others have pointed out the UK doesn’t have the ability to produce the type of chips quantum computing would require within its own borders, meaning development is reliant on the global supply chain – the present disruption of which is effecting all sorts of tech areas.

“Considering the global economic headwinds, private investment in deep tech—for which potential return on investment is several years away—may be more challenging to secure, making the timing of this announcement particularly welcome,” said James Sanders, Principal Analyst, Cloud and Infrastructure, CCS Insight. “That said, manufacturing of quantum hardware is reliant on international trade, as there are no Tier 1 fabrication plants in the UK suitable for manufacturing equipment needed for a quantum computer.

“This is an important factor in developing quantum hardware. Building such a facility would require a combination of private and public investment nearer in scale to the CHIPS Act in the US, though the benefits would likely extend to manufacturing classical CPUs, GPUs, and AI/ML accelerators.”

Quantum computing has been theoretical for years but hasn’t been developed into proper commercial offerings yet, it exists in trials and labs like this one announced by Ericsson in Montreal. It’s obviously an extremely complex subject, but very broadly its really about providing much more power supercomputers that will be able to crunch harder problems very quickly. What that might mean for society and business remains in low resolution currently – but one specific area that seems to have gained attention is the impact on security.

Late last year GSMA, IBM and Vodafone set up the ‘Post-Quantum Telco Network Taskforce’, which will look into ‘mitigating the risks associated with future, more-powerful quantum computers.’ The fear is that without quantum-safe controls in place, data could be at risk from attackers who ‘harvest’ present-day data for later decryption. The announcement cited the World Economic Forum’s estimate that more than 20 billion digital devices will need to be either upgraded or replaced in the next 10-20 years to use new forms of ‘quantum-safe encrypted communication’.

As with most tech then there are pros and cons, to say the least. As technology firms, governments, and researchers around the world continue the seemingly inevitable march towards a quantum computing future, both the introduction of the problems it could usher in (like bad actors rolling over current security defences), and the benefits it could bring (such as helping to cure diseases with hyper-fast, extremely complex modelling), will surely make big waves across societies, economies, and militaries in the coming years.

The applications of quantum computing, combined with AI, that end up emerging first could be the difference between a future that looks like the utopian world of Star Trek, and something decidedly more grim.


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About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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