Moore's Law claims that the computing power that can be housed on computer chips is finite. Currently, processors are just seven nanometres in size – a tiny 0.000007 millimetres. It is unlikely that it will be possible to get much smaller, which means that the capacity limit of conventional chips will probably soon be reached. Yet, at the same time, complex applications such as those based on artificial intelligence (AI) require more and more computing power. This is where quantum informatics can provide a solution.
Unlike traditional computers, quantum computers operate not on the basis of electronic states, but of quantum mechanical states. To do this, they use physical principles of quantum mechanics. Instead of bits and 0 and 1 states, they use quantum bits. These "qubits" are able to assume more than the two states 0 and 1, since they can be interlocked with each other. Calculations that would take years to perform on one of today's supercomputers can be completed by quantum computers in a matter of minutes. This is possible because instead of performing calculations one at a time, as is the case with conventional computers, quantum computers perform several calculations at the same time. This means they can process vast amounts of data and achieve significantly more than cloud technologies or high-performance computing (HPC). What is special about this: while the basic research continues at full speed, commercial use of quantum computers has already begun, for example with the search for good use cases and technology combinations.
The incredibly high computing power of quantum computers has the potential to revolutionize key areas of our economy – such as controlling the demand for energy. Or in a smart city: quantum simulation can theoretically be used here to control traffic flows in such a way that traffic jams could become a thing of the past. Quantum computing is also ideal for extensive risk analyses in the insurance and financial sectors. There are also many potential fields of application in the health sector. With the help of quantum computers, doctors would be able to analyse genetic information as part of cancer treatment in order to determine individual treatment methods for patients.
A 2020 study by McKinsey ranked Germany fourth in the world for quantum computing – as measured by the number of companies, start-ups, funding programs and research groups – coming in behind the UK, Canada, and the top-ranked USA. At the same time, the total amount of government funding allocated to quantum computing in this country up to 2020 was around 2.7 billion US dollars – a world record. And in May 2021, the German government had allocated a further two billion euros for the development of quantum computers over the next five years. The objective: to make Germany a world leader in the development and practical application of quantum computing.
Like the German government, T-Systems also sees huge potential for quantum computing. Technology is high on our agenda, as was recently underscored by Tim Höttges, CEO of Telekom, at this year's Annual General Meeting in April. In his keynote speech, he focused on quantum computing as an important area of innovation, alongside the metaverse and NFTs. Max Ahrens, Chief Technology Officer at T-Systems, and a team led by Dr Andre Engelbertz, who is a physicist, are already driving development at T-Systems.
T-Systems is pursuing ambitious goals in doing so: "We want to become the leading quantum computing service provider in Europe with our innovations and services," says Ahrens. "We want to harness the full potential of quantum computing to help our customers experience greater commercial success." This is what led us to participate in the PlanQK project funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology in 2021. The consortium of companies, associations and research institutions aims to develop a platform and an ecosystem for quantum-assisted artificial intelligence. The idea is that users will be able to access a quantum AppStore and developers will easily be able to use quantum platforms. Telekom Innovation Laboratories, or T-Labs for short, is concentrating on research, while T-Systems is helping its first industrial customers to use quantum technologies for specific applications.
Many quantum computers still lack precision. What is known as "quantum noise" can be explained by Heisenberg's and Schrödinger's uncertainty principle. In other words, two complementary properties of a particle – such as evaluating large data sets with dependencies on momentum and time – cannot be determined simultaneously with any degree of accuracy. To solve this problem, T-Systems is using cloud-based quantum simulation software that behaves like a quantum computer, yet is more reliable and significantly cheaper. The first step involves using the Open Telekom Cloud to provide cloud infrastructure and data storage.
Quantum computers, which are highly specialised computers, will always have to rely heavily on traditional IT infrastructures. Cloud services and high-performance computing are already capable of processing large amounts of data, analysing it with the help of artificial intelligence, and making forecasts. Connecting these with quantum simulators, quantum annealers, or later with classical quantum computers, creates a bridge between the existing infrastructure and the new quantum computers.
We have set ourselves ambitious goals, and intend to become the leading quantum computing service provider in Europe.