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ISO rejects China's WLAN standard

Posted: 15 Mar 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mike Clendenin? International Organization for Standardization? ISO? WLAN? IEEE 802.11i?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) overwhelmingly rejected China's domestic WLAN technology as an international standard, deciding instead to approve IEEE 802.11i as the basis for a more secure wireless protocol.

Only 22 percent of ISO's members supported China's Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI), while 86 percent favored 802.11i, according to documents obtained by EE Times. The voting wrapped up last week, but ISO doesn't plan to make the results public until next week.

Some ISO members said they were concerned that WAPI's development process was relatively closed and that some of the underlying technology, such as security algorithms, has not been disclosed. There was also a concern about WAPI's apparent incompatibility with 802.11i and its predecessors.

Meanwhile, other ISO members also noted the intense lobbying they were subjected to during the five-month balloting process. During that period, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group released detailed arguments against WAPI, which spurred angry responses from the Chinese national standards body and worsened tensions between the groups.

Despite the rejection, many ISO members expressed a desire to see a "harmonization" between the standards. Yet it was clear that 802.11i would be the foundation of any such attempt.

"We believe that elements of 1N7904 (WAPI) provide mechanisms that are potentially valuable additions to ISO/IEC 8802-11 and other standards in the future. There will always be a need for improved security mechanisms to provide new features and defend against new threats," said the New Zealand national standards body.

A hint about whether the two sides can work together to include some of WAPI's technology into an ISO standard should come in June when ISO members meet in Prague to discuss the results of the ballot. In a statement released to EE Times, IEEE said it "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."

China's Ministry of Information Industry backed the establishment of the WAPI Union, which consists of 22 members, including Lenovo, Huawei and Beijing Founder Electronics, as well as China's big four telecom operators. At the practical level, it will be difficult for the union to build enough momentum behind WAPI so that it eclipses the 802.11 standard, which is entrenched in the marketplace and a critical component of the notebooks that PC makers such as Lenovo sell.

It's been nearly two years since U.S. officials met with China's Vice Premier Wu Yi to defuse a dust-up in trade relations linked to the Chinese proposal to mandate adoption of WAPI. Foreign companies, such as Intel Corp., rallied stiff opposition to the proposal, upset at the possibility of being forced to implement the standard and angry that the IP was restricted to Chinese companies and therefore obligated foreign companies to form partnerships with local firms.

There has been no indication yet from Chinese officials that this latest push will lead to a mandate.

- Mike Clendenin
EE Times

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