Scaling of the quantum approximate optimization algorithm on superconducting qubit based hardware

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Quantum computers may provide good solutions to combinatorial optimization problems by leveraging the Quantum Approximate Optimization Algorithm (QAOA). The QAOA is often presented as an algorithm for noisy hardware. However, hardware constraints limit its applicability to problem instances that closely match the connectivity of the qubits. Furthermore, the QAOA must outpace classical solvers. Here, we investigate swap strategies to map dense problems into linear, grid and heavy-hex coupling maps. A line-based swap strategy works best for linear and two-dimensional grid coupling maps. Heavy-hex coupling maps require an adaptation of the line swap strategy. By contrast, three-dimensional grid coupling maps benefit from a different swap strategy. Using known entropic arguments we find that the required gate fidelity for dense problems lies deep below the fault-tolerant threshold. We also provide a methodology to reason about the execution-time of QAOA. Finally, we present a QAOA Qiskit Runtime program and execute the closed-loop optimization on cloud-based quantum computers with transpiler settings optimized for QAOA. This work highlights some obstacles to improve to make QAOA competitive, such as gate fidelity, gate speed, and the large number of shots needed. The Qiskit Runtime program gives us a tool to investigate such issues at scale on noisy superconducting qubit hardware.