WAPI battle exposes technology rifts with ChinaHONG KONG Standards battles are usually black-and-blue affairs. But few have risen to the level of rancor surrounding the clash between the IEEE's 802.11i standard and China's domestic wireless-LAN standard, called WAPI.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recently confirmed that its members have overwhelmingly rejected the Chinese technology as a global standard, deciding instead to approve 802.11i as a candidate for a more-secure wireless protocol.
The outcome came as no surprise, given the popularity of the 802.11 technology. Moreover, the Chinese hamstrung their candidate, formally known as the WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure, by declining to reveal the underlying encryption algorithms. In comments attached to their votes, some ISO members also expressed concerns about WAPI's incompatibility with the well-established 802.11 protocol and noted that WAPI's development process was relatively closed.
ISO's decision pretty much spells the end for China's hopes of making WAPI an international standard, although the specification will probably find some limited success within Chinese government agencies and the military. When ISO members meet this summer to review the results, WAPI backers promise they will make a last-ditch effort to appeal the decision, based on what they believe was a dirty-tricks campaign waged by IEEE after the voting process began in October. What angered China was last-minute lobbying by the IEEE 802.11 Working Groupin particular, a letter written in November that sought to highlight the alleged deficiencies of WAPI.
The China Broadband Wireless Internet Protocol Standard Group (BWIPS), which oversees the development of WAPI, has accused IEEE of using "deception, misinformation [and] confusion" during the voting process, "thus seriously violating the ISO/IEC code of ethics and procedural rules and principles, and creating an unfair ballot environment dominated by prejudice and discrimination." IEEE declined to rebut those allegations directly.
Instead, in a statement released to EE Times, Steven Mills, IEEE's standards board chairman, said the group "remains committed to supporting the international standards process and maintains its offer to work with China to harmonize the WAPI technology with existing IEEE and international standards."
BWIPS last week ruled out IEEE's offer as a "hypocritical proposal"in its opinion, using a good technology (WAPI) to patch up a bad one (11i). "Achieving global interoperability" would be a primary goal of a harmonization effort, said IEEE's Mills, and that's a concern others in the industry have voiced as well. For example, an Intel Corp. spokesman said that two important factors must be resolved before Intel could look at developing products based on WAPI, specifically for the China market.
First, Intel wants to see what requirements will emerge for wireless-LAN products within China, including whether any major companies implement WAPI in a significant way. On top of that, companies outside Asia would want to see clear certification and interoperability guidelines before they would be willing to make products for the market. Taken together, the spokesman said, the two caveats suggest that "WAPI could be a long way off."
Texas Instruments Inc. is talking to customers to gauge potential interest in a WAPI-compliant Wi-Fi chip set, a spokesperson said, but as of now has no specific development plans in place.