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China WLAN protocol gets a second chance

Posted: 23 Jun 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:WLAN? Wi-Fi? WAPI protocol?

China's WLAN security protocol, which the government tried to force companies to adopt three years ago as a de facto standard, is being submitted again to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as a global standard.

The Wireless Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) protocol has twice been rejected as a global standard, which has always incensed its Chinese backers.

The ISO instead adopted the IEEE 802.11i security specification developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and now universally used in Wi-Fi networks globally.

A huge and acrimonious debate preceded and followed the decisions.

China backers of the protocol insisted that any Wi-Fi chips and gear sold in the country must support WAPI alongside (or instead of) standard 802.11 security extensions. Opponents such as Intel argued that they risked opening up technical secrets since support for WAPI required firms to share information with a Chinese partner. They also claimed China was trying to give its own manufacturers a headstart in its huge market.

In the event, the authorities decided to make the protocol optional in the country, though it never gained wide acceptance.

China will now handle "follow-up application arrangements" following a resolution earlier this week by the international standards setting organization encouraging it to submit the protocol again.

China's planned application follows a rise in efforts to promote WAPI domestically in recent months. At least two of the country's three mobile carriers have started requiring WAPI support on all newly purchased WLAN gear this year. Some mobile phone suppliers, including Motorola and Nokia, have also announced plans to release handsets this year that support both WAPI and the 802.11i standard.

The ISO decision to reopen the WAPI debate will not mean any immediate change as the process could take several years to resolve, nor is acceptance guaranteed this time round.

WAPI overwhelmingly lost the vote when it was last considered by ISO, partly due to concerns about Chinese secrecy surrounding the protocol.

Nevertheless, Chinese government backed agencies and their increasingly successful and influential communications equipment companies have started working more collaboratively with others in the sector, notably in setting standards for the emerging Long Term Evolution cellular infrastructure.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe





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