Restoring the Reputation of Vaporware

By: Noel Goddard

The term “vaporware” was coined in 1982 by a Microsoft engineer to describe the company’s Xenix operating system. (If you haven’t heard of Xenix, you’re not alone!) From that point on, vaporware became an accepted practice in the software community to announce features or platforms that would ultimately never make it to market. The term now extends to hardware companies hyping their breakthrough technologies that don’t advance past a basic concept. As an emerging industry with great potential, quantum tech is not immune – admittedly, our industry has had some notable offenders.

But what happens when your company literally produces vaporware? At Qunnect, we rely on rubidium vapor to produce and store qubits as well as leveraging it to provide an insanely high precision reference to our instruments sitting in different locations across quantum networks – it is essentially the foundation of our product suite. While some exquisite fundamental physics can be studied using extremely cold rubidium vapor, we prefer the hot variety for our commercial hardware implementations. If you’ve seen the Qunnect team at conferences, you might recognize our t-shirts and swag that proclaim, “We like it hot!” (Check out our chief scientist Mehdi Namazi’s preferred notebook.)

Do you use GPS? Guess what, you’re a vaporware fan, too! Atomic vapors like rubidium and cesium are the basis for atomic clocks which provide position, navigation and timing references to not only help us travel in unfamiliar places, but they also give the internet a master clock to timestamp everything from financial transactions to cat videos.

Beyond clocks, atomic vapors like rubidium are also at the heart of quantum sensors. Unlike traditional sensors, a quantum sensor leverages the inherent instability of quantum states to detect minute changes. It vastly improves the accuracy of how we measure and interact with the world by collecting data at the atomic level. Infleqtion, for example, is commercializing Tiqker, an atomic frequency reference that uses vapors to provide high-precision, resilient navigation in challenging environments where GPS is unavailable or susceptible to spoofing/denial attacks. Earlier this year, our investor SandboxAQ successfully tested its quantum sensor-based magnetic anomaly navigation system with the U.S. Air Force.

With rubidium, Qunnect’s “vaporware” is making quantum entanglement-based networking tangible. Qunnect has been selling quantum memories to researchers since 2021 and launched our GothamQ network in NYC in 2023. It’s part of a wave of recent developments in the field that is starting to shift customers’ mindset from “quantum curious” to one that is more “quantum committed.”

So, the next time you hear the term “vaporware” in casual conversation, we ask that you challenge the definition. In our case, the hype is real -- our quantum networking hardware is shipping to customers, and it’s why we’ve adopted “hardware, not hype” as our new mantra. Stay tuned for our upcoming publication on the performance of our hardware on our GothamQ network in NYC!