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Is Quantum Computing Startup IonQ a Buy Ahead of Its SPAC Merger?

Special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) dMY Technology Group III (NYSE: DMYI) recently announced that it will be merging with quantum computing start-up IonQ. A number of quantum computing deals and developments have been revealed over the last couple of years that indicate that this futuristic tech could be nearing broader-based commercialization. IonQ is one of the few pure-plays in a space dominated by technology giants. It's an interesting company to keep an eye on at the very least, but investors should stay patient ahead of its public debut.

Is a revolution in computing brewing?

Traditional computers store and manipulate bits of data in a binary state, recording it in strings of 1s and 0s. Quantum computing introduces quantum mechanics into the equation. At the atomic and subatomic level, particles can simultaneously exist in more than one state at any given time -- kind of like if a version of yourself went to work and stayed home at the same time. Quantum computing makes use of quantum bits -- aka, qubits. Qubits are small metal conductors on a microchip, and their energy states (a 1 or a 0 in traditional computing) are manipulated using microwaves.

Qubits, though, can hold onto states that are some combination of "1" and a "0" at the same time. (Think 84% "1", and 16% "0", for example. But any proportions are possible.) Because of this, quantum computers can perform computations exponentially faster than traditional computers are capable of. Qubits are unstable, however, and the machines that use them require special care to avoid errors in computing. Still, progress is being made toward "quantum supremacy," the point at which a quantum computer can solve certain types of equations quickly that traditional supercomputers can't solve in a reasonable amount of time.

Image source: Getty Images.

Sound trippy? That's natural. Quantum physics defies our everyday experience of the world -- though the weird things it does are nothing like the time- and space-bending adventures in Disney's Avengers: Endgame or Ant-Man. But quantum physics also works, and it underlies a lot of the technology we use every day.

And on a practical level, quantum computing could eventually hold the key to solving massive problems that current computing can't effectively tackle. Among the promising applications for quantum computing are materials design at the molecular level, diagnosing illnesses, developing new medical treatments, and determining the best ways to allocate resources across very large systems.

IonQ will be the first publicly traded pure-play in quantum computing. The company has one 32-qubit computer in operation now, but it plans to build a network of them that can be tapped by businesses and organizations for use in their research and development efforts. The company plans to start building this network by 2023. Its single-computer system is available now for use via Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) AWS and Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Azure cloud computing services.

IonQ has some early traction, but investors should exercise caution

IonQ is far from alone in its quest to conquer this next-gen computing technology. Alphabet's (NASDAQ: GOOGL)(NASDAQ: GOOG) Google has a quantum computer. So does IBM (NYSE: IBM) -- a leader in this space with over 100 customers, including a quantum-computing-powered research partnership it recently announced with The Cleveland Clinic. Industrial conglomerate Honeywell (NYSE: HON) introduced the world to its quantum computer last summer too. And other cloud computing leaders might enter the fray, including Amazon.

That makes IonQ but a sapling among well-established giants. Post-merger, the company will have an enterprise value (market cap minus expected cash on balance of $616 million) of roughly $1.4 billion based on the current price of dMY Technology Group III. Estimated 2021 revenue is $5 million, and adjusted EBITDA is expected to be a $42 million loss, so suffice it to say that this is an "expensive" stock right now.

However, the longer-term projections are for annual revenue of $237 million and adjusted EBITDA of $61 million by 2025 -- when IonQ thinks commercialization of its planned network of quantum computers will start to really kick in. (Management expects it will have 17 of them deployed by that time.)

Until then, this is primarily a research and development company -- although one that has substantial cash in the bank and is moving quickly toward an efficient quantum computing system available at scale via big public cloud computing vendors. For now, I'm happy with my exposure to the quantum realm via my investments in Alphabet and IBM, but IonQ's progress is worth monitoring if quantum computing can start gaining traction in the coming years.

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