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Indian IT firms make initial forays into quantum computing

Indian IT firms make initial forays into quantum computing
Photo Credit: IBM
4 Aug, 2022
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IT companies in India are pushing for faster adoption of quantum technologies through investments and partnerships with technical institutes who will provide the know-how in quantum physics, set up labs, and find and nurture talent to build quantum applications.

For instance, on July 23, Tech Mahindra signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Mahindra University to set up something called Makers Lab, which will boost research and development in Quantum and Metaverse among other things. A day before, IT firm Mphasis announced an MoU with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras to “accelerate fundamental and applied research” in quantum computing. On July 29, HCL signed an MoU with Sydney Quantum Academy. 

Mphasis also announced a grant of ₹ 21 crore to develop and attract talent, provide scholarships, and assist startups. The company has forged a similar partnership with the University of Calgary, in Canada, as well.

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Further, while Tech Mahindra and Mphasis have announced initial partnerships, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) is taking interest too. Anil Sharma, Head of Corporate Incubation at TCS said the company has stepped up engagement with academia, industry players, and quantum technology vendors to build and expand its quantum network in the last year.

Quantum computers use principles of quantum physics for information processing to deliver an alternative model of high-performance computing. They use quantum principles, superposition, to represent bits — 1 and 0 — simultaneously. This increases their overall processing power significantly and allows more complex problems to be solved in a fraction of the time.

Although a real quantum computer doesn’t exist right now, IT firms are hoping to leverage the enormous computing capabilities promised by such computers in the solutions they provide to their customers by making early inroads, said industry experts.

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"Quantum allows us to solve some of the classical problems that we could not solve earlier," said Nikhil Malhotra, Global Head, Makers Lab, Tech Mahindra. He pointed out that understanding protein molecules for drug discovery, fraud detection in banking financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector, satellite placement, and cryptography are some areas where it can make a difference.

Mphasis, on its part, has developed a EON (Energy Optimized Network) quantum computing framework, which is patent-pending right now. The company claims that it can overcome the limitations of current era Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum (NISQ) quantum computing systems.

NISQ refers to the current era in quantum computing, in which companies can develop working quantum computers that can perform tasks classical computers can’t, but aren’t fault tolerant. In this era, quantum computers perform certain calculations that classical supercomputers can’t, but classical computers then run machine learning (ML) operations on those results, to yield final solutions. This is how quantum-as-a-service (QaaS) products are offered today.

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That said, industry experts and IT firms admit that the efforts won’t see fruition overnight. Malhotra said that some cases can benefit from quantum computing today, while others “may go up in the next 4-5 years”. “but then the industry has to start now in creating that kind of skill set for them,” he added. 

Prashanth Kaddi, Partner, Deloitte India said that quantum is the "logical next big thing"  and could drive future growth for IT companies.

"A big chunk of business, as well as internal insights, comes from data and analytics. the volumes of data have grown so large and the race to generate insight and turn it into action is so intense, that classical computing is being stretched to its limits," he added. 

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According to a February report by NASSCOM, enterprise adoption of quantum computing is expected to go from the current 1-2% to 35-45% over the next decade. 

But unlike cloud and some other technologies, quantum computing requires an understanding of quantum physics over and above the knowledge of computing. This is why IT firms are turning to educational institutes now. "The reason we went to Mahindra University is that they have good physicists over there," said Malhotra.

“In addition to identifying several industry partners and prospective clients for the commercialization of jointly developed quantum solutions, such partnerships enable joint design and capability building in next-gen technologies," said Srikumar Ramanathan, Chief Solutions Officer at Mphasis. 

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Having said that, IT companies and experts acknowledged that the money spent so far on quantum research in India is small and exploratory. But it is expected to grow as more companies will join the bandwagon. “For IT services the future lies in QaaS. There is no denying that this will hit us in the next 2-3 years," Malhotra added.

TCS’ Sharma said that investments in the segment may increase rapidly in the coming years “given the disruptive impact” that quantum can make in key areas.