A new type of qubit based on elusive, never-before-demonstrated properties of physics was invented by Microsoft's quantum computing research teams. This will allow the company to build quantum computers that can solve the most difficult problems.

Is this a breakthrough for the field or just a marketing ploy?

To sort out the answer, we need to look at Microsoft's quantum computing department, its history, and what it is actually trying to accomplish.

A full stack solution

Microsoft isn't the first name that comes to mind when you think about quantum computing. IBM was the first big tech company to develop consumer-facing quantum computing systems and it is currently engaged in a fight with D-Wave, a quantum company that recently went public.

Microsoft chose a different path than its competitors in order to carve its own lane. The new kind of qubit developed by the Azure team is called a topological qubit and is the first of its kind to have been demonstrated.

According to a company post.

Microsoft’s approach has been to pursue a topological qubit that has built-in protection from environmental noise, which means it should take far fewer qubits to perform useful computation and correct errors. Topological qubits should also be able to process information quickly, and one can fit more than a million on a wafer that’s smaller than the security chip on a credit card.

The team responsible for the breakthrough believes that the fastest path to quantum computers is through topological qubits.

This tells us that Microsoft is eyeing the quantum computing market and that it sees itself as the global leader.

Microsoft isn't a newcomer to the quantum computing industry, but it only offers limited quantum services to select partners. The quantum ambitions were fuzzy prior to the breakthrough.

It is clear that Microsoft intends to develop a full stack quantum computing solution with a gate-based system.

Quantum ambition

It is not possible to determine what one million qubits will be capable of in Microsoft's quantum computers. A few months ago the technology the company is using was considered hypothetical, as the field is too young.

The speed of business is more important than the state of the research in Microsoft's case.

Microsoft is throwing its full weight behind the technology and there isn't much room for prediction when it comes to scaling quantum systems. These systems require hundreds of millions of dollars to build and operate.

If Microsoft builds hardware that can scale one million qubits, it's a good bet that it will take on all comers.

The team says it is more of an engineering path now that the fundamental technology has been demonstrated.

We are likely to see Microsoft's ambition come to fruition within a decade.

But wait there’s more

It's obvious that Microsoft doesn't want to wait until 2030 or beyond to start doing business. It plans to offer access to a 1,000 qubit processor by the end of the year.

This won't be a paradigm like the one that azure just invented. The company formed a partnership with a company that makes hardware to run quantum technology.

An internal view of a quantum computer
Credit: Pasqal

The VP of Quantum Software of Microsoft described the partnership as a way to bring quantum technologies to both companies.

Azure Quantum is a unified, open cloud ecosystem for quantum innovation, empowering customers to achieve impact with a diverse selection of quantum hardware, software, and solutions.

Pasqal’s neutral atoms quantum processors are a welcome addition to that ecosystem, providing Azure Quantum users with new computational possibilities, including analog quantum computation, opening up new avenues for pursuing real-world quantum impacts.

Microsoft's biggest weakness in the quantum industry is that it doesn't have a long-term solution to fill the gap between the future and now.

Winner takes… some

As to whether IBM's iterative approach, Microsoft's new qubits, or a dark horse technology will prevail.

It's unlikely we'll end with multiple viable approaches. Hardware manufacturers will eventually get on the same page. The next ten years should set the stage for the ultimate event.

quantum computing is not a zero sum game. Microsoft is poised to take a dominant share of the market, but it is unlikely that any one company will surpass the competition.

Like the artificial intelligence market, quantum computing requires solutions on a case-by-case basis. All-purpose quantum computers won't be on store shelves soon. They will be vying for partnerships with lucrative long-term contracts.

Each company will have to rely on its strengths to find their way. For Microsoft, that means connecting partners through its cloud platform and getting high-paying government contracts.

Microsoft appears to have caught up to the competition. There are no guarantees in theoretical physics, but it would be silly to count out the house that Bill Gates built in any technology race.

The partnership between Pasqal and Microsoft makes it a favorite for the future and puts it in direct competition for the top spot today. We would give Microsoft the edge over IBM because of the company's no-drama approach to landing big ticket government projects.