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China isn't happy to see its wireless security standard rejected by an international standards body. But don't write this off as an insider techie spat. Standards are emerging as a tense trade issue as China ramps up its IT influence.
This dispute is over the International Organization for Standardization rejecting China's encryption technology, known as WAPI, or WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure. ISO instead embraced the 802.11i encryption standard, developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and heavily backed by the likes of Intel. In response, the Standardization Administration of China last week made a testy appeal to the ISO, accusing the IEEE of conspiracy and unethical behavior. China also said it would support the WAPI approach for domestic use, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Disagreements around standards are likely to become more common as China asserts its influence as a buyer and maker of technology, looking to cut the royalty fees its electronics manufacturers pay and give those companies any advantage that may come from homegrown standards. "China is becoming increasingly frustrated that they've been excluded from the standard-setting process," says George Koo, senior adviser at the Chinese services group of consulting firm Deloitte & Touche. "Most standards have been handed to them as a de facto." Chinese companies pay royalties when building electronics that use those standards.
The 802.11i encryption standard is a security amendment to the base 802.11 standard that addresses the weaknesses in Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, an encryption technology that's vulnerable to intrusion. WAPI addresses those same shortcomings. IEEE denied any wrongdoing during the selection of its standard. "It is inaccurate to characterize the working group's activities as untruthful or uncooperative," the IEEE says in a statement. The organization says its working group conducted all its activities in public forums, to which the Chinese standards body was invited.
CHINA WON'T GIVE UP
Unlike WAPI, the 802.11 standard is well established in the marketplace and used by most Wi-Fi-enabled devices, laptops, and PCs. It's also backed by big-name companies such as Intel, which opposed WAPI when it was proposed as an international wireless security standard. The IEEE says WAPI isn't compatible with the base 802.11 standard.