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India to invest $1bn in quantum computing

India plans to invest $1bn over the next five years to advance its capabilities in quantum technology, but it will need to have a tailored approach and to address the skills gap to succeed

India is investing $1bn over the next five years in various programmes to advance its capabilities in quantum information and meteorology, quantum applications and materials and quantum communications.

It is also planning to develop a quantum computer with about 50 qubits by 2026, joining a growing number of countries such as Australia and Israel that are looking to drive broader adoption of the nascent technology.

India, for one, expects enterprise adoption of quantum technology to grow from less than 1% in 2022 to 35-45% by 2030. The number of startups in the country with commercial quantum applications is also set to rise from 14 to 15 today to 400 to 500 over the next decade.

Quantum applications would have the most significant impact in defence, manufacturing, banking and high-tech areas, with defence and manufacturing accounting for over a third of India’s quantum market, according to Swapnil Bhatnagar, senior research director of Avasant, a management consultancy that co-authored a report on India’s quantum industry with the National Association of Software and Service Companies (Nasscom).

“The Indian quantum computing push is very unique in the world, especially with strong moves by government agencies, and a robust and versatile startup ecosystem that is looking at different facets, along with parallel work from service providers and academia,” Bhatnagar said.

“The Indian ecosystem is expanding and is expected to accelerate at a tremendous rate in the next 10 years. We are on our way to reach the next big point and the ecosystem is getting ready,” he added.

During a virtual panel discussion organised by Nasscom last week, Achyuta Ghosh, research head of Nasscom, noted that the Indian government has been at the forefront of quantum innovation, partnering with leading research groups and universities.

India’s tech community, which is growing apace with global peers, also has a crucial role to play in translating quantum research to business use cases.

To that end, they will need to tailor quantum technology to solve specific problems rather than take a general purpose approach, said Rohini Srivathsa, national technology officer at Microsoft India. “Even as general quantum computing evolution takes time, there is a lot of algorithmic work that can start today for application-specific models,” she added.

Manojkumar Parmar, deputy general manager for technical at Bosch India, agreed, noting that rather than build a general purpose quantum computer, organisations can build software or apps. “The stack is very wide, and the entire chain will matter eventually but choose what you want to start with,” he said.

But Sunil Gupta, co-founder and CEO of QuNu Labs, a quantum cryptography company, pinned down a challenge that could stand in way of Indian companies looking to break into the field.

“In quantum computing, if you want a successful venture, you need two things – proof of science (where India has not been traditionally good) and proof of tech (India has not been great at deep-tech products).

“Some venture capitalists see this as a flash in the pan unless those two areas are done well. Find a good angel investor with patience and a long-term horizon – and everything will fall in place,” he said.

Building and retaining a specialised workforce is also critical to realising India’s quantum ambitions. The country plans to groom about 25,000 workers in quantum technology in the next five to seven years, with support from tech companies and research groups which have various talent programmes underway.

IBM, for instance, partnered with 11 top-tier academic institutions in India to provide access to IBM quantum systems, quantum learning resources, and quantum tools over the cloud for education and research purposes. About 100 to 150 students will benefit every year.

Other leading research groups such as Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and The Quantum Information, Control and Thermodynamics Group at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay also offer various summer projects and training opportunities to graduate and postgraduate students and researchers.

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