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The UK has made more funding available to accelerate the development of quantum computers and the applications that run on them.
February 5, 2024
A total of £45 million has been allocated via two separate competitions. The first one sees £30 million contributed by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)'s Technology Missions Fund and the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) to projects that will build new quantum computing testbeds. Seven to be precise, spread the length and breadth of the country.
These controlled environments will give scientists and engineers the means to study quantum bits (qubits), and test new quantum algorithms, devices and technologies, all of which will aid the development of working practical quantum computers.
Different testbeds will employ different hardware architectures – presumably for the purposes of comparing the performance thereof. They are due to be up and running by March 2025.
"Over the coming 15 months these prototype quantum computing platforms will be deployed into the newly established NQCC facility providing us with a valuable insight into the maturity, characteristics and capabilities available across a range of hardware architectures," said NQCC director Dr Michael Cuthbert.
The remaining £15 million forms the Quantum Catalyst Fund.
Established by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT), and Innovate UK, it will fund projects focused on quantum computing use cases for the government that span its work in areas such as health, transport and climate.
"Quantum technologies have the potential to meet some of the greatest challenges society faces. By unleashing computing power that goes far beyond existing digital technology, we can reach new frontiers in sensing, timing, imaging, and communications," said Will Drury, executive director, digital and technologies, at Innovate UK.
"This could be transformative for life in the UK and will create new, well-paid jobs that will boost our future economy," he said.
This £45 million funding round falls under the auspices of the UK's National Quantum Strategy. Published last March, the 10-year, £2.5 billion programme represents a doubling of current public investment in quantum technology and supports the UK's stated aim of becoming a so-called 'science and technology superpower.'
The announcement comes less than a week after a report revealed that globally, public investment in quantum computing has overtaken venture capitalist funding.
The report, compiled by quantum computer maker IQM, VC firm OpenOcean, and tech investor Lakestar, shows that VC funding fell to $1.2 billion in 2023 from $2.2 billion in 2022. It was driven by the US, which recorded a decline of 80 percent. In Asia Pacific, it fell by 17 percent, while Europe, the Middle East and Africa saw funding rise by a modest 3 percent.
The report implies that venture capitalists have diverted their attention – and therefore cash – away from quantum and towards generative AI, even though there are links between the two.
As a result, the report credits governments with being a source of reliable, long-term capital for quantum R&D.
According to the report, to date, 30 governments have committed more than $40 billion of public funding to quantum technologies, and 20 of those governments have drawn up coordinated policies, funding and roadmaps.
This certainly rings true with what the UK has been up to with regards to quantum tech over the last 10 years, and what it hopes to achieve during the next 10.
The £15 million Quantum Catalyst Fund is also right on the money when it comes to addressing one important challenge facing the quantum computing industry.
"We have a chance to establish trillion-dollar quantum software leaders, but only by ensuring hardware, algorithms and interfaces serve particular real world use cases," noted Ekaterina Almasque, general partner at OpenOcean.
"As macro conditions evolve, pragmatic innovation focused on quantum-business fit will be key," she continued. "Many industries that are not preparing for the quantum era would risk falling behind in the quantum future."
Telcos are doing their bit, of course.
Between conducting R&D in areas such as quantum networking and security, and providing enterprise customers with cloud-based access to quantum computers, the industry is at the forefront of this emerging technology.
It's just taking a little longer to emerge than your typical venture capitalist would like.
Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.
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