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The Race to Build a Full-Scale Quantum Computer: Superconducting Giants vs. Trapped-Ion Underdogs

As Google just claimed to have achieved quantum supremacy because their machine only needs 200 seconds to solve a problem that would take the world’s fastest supercomputer 10,000 years, the race to build a full-scale quantum computer is heating up! Google, IBM, Rigetti, Intel, and IonQ are among the top competitors. However, not all companies are pursuing the same physical qubit implementation. 

The approach that Google and most industry giants such as IBM, Rigetti and Intel are taking is superconducting. On the other hand, a relatively new approach that companies such as IonQ are pursuing is trapped-ion, which is surprisingly what many university research groups are betting on. 

How do they compare? To start, superconducting qubits is the more mature technology because it has had more research time and engagement, so it’s easier to realize their advantages and disadvantages. But being more mature does not necessarily mean it has the edge. Here’s a list of some of the major advantages and disadvantages of both implementations to really determine if there’s a front-runner:

*Major Advantages


  • Build on existing semiconductor technology

  • Qubits are easy to reproduce

  • Easy coupling

  • Fast operation

Trapped ion:

  • Maintain coherence well; highest achieved gate fidelities

  • Dilution refrigerators (extremely low temperatures) are not needed

  • All-to-all connectivity

  • All qubits are identical

*Major Disadvantages


  • Short coherence

  • Limited gate connectivity

  • Require extremely low temperatures to operate

Trapped ion:

  • Difficult to scale lasers - hardware intensive

  • Slow gate speed/operation

By comparing and contrasting the two, it’s hard to clearly determine who has the upper hand. Neither have a significant advantage or disadvantage that makes one the front-runner. However, for now, the edge goes to the superconducting implementation. What did it come down to? Superconducting got the edge for two reasons beyond their current advantages and disadvantages: Google, who is pursuing the superconducting quantum computer, recently claimed quantum supremacy with just 53 qubits; it is being pursued by the biggest and best tech giants meaning they have the money and the means for more advanced research and development. 

However, this is not to say that the trapped-ion approach won’t succeed. If researchers can solve the scaling problem with lasers, trapped-ion computers have the potential to leapfrog superconducting computers!

It is also worth noting that the superconducting and trapped-ion implementations aren’t the only ones being pursued. Industries such as Fujitsu and D-Wave are pursuing an implementation known as quantum annealing that has its own advantages and disadvantages, but that’s a whole different discussion.

Despite the edge superconducting quantum computers have, Quantum Thought is excited to see both implementations, as well as others, thrive, as it brings the tech world one step closer to reaching the Quantum Era. Concurrently, Quantum Thought is prepared to launch their quantum computing applications in verticals including, but not limited to, Quantum AI and Machine Learning, Cybersecurity, Finance, and Materials Science!


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More great quantum computing news here. This is yet another milestone on the way to functional quantum computing.

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