China Fights For Its Wireless Standard Against Intel-Backed 802.11i

Chinese officials say the approval process for a wireless security standard was unfairly stacked against its WAPI. It could be the start of more such disputes.



It's been nearly three months since the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) rejected China's encryption technology as an international standard for securing wireless networks. But it popped into the spotlight this week as China put up a fight for its proposed standard, accusing the IEEE of conspiracy and unethical behavior in an appeal to the ISO.

Disagreements around standards are likely to become more common as China asserts its influence as a buyer and maker of technology and looks to give its electronics manufacturers any advantage that may be had with homegrown standards.

The Standardization Administration of China (SAC) filed an appeal to the ISO, according to the Xinhua News Agency, to reconsider its decision to reject China's encryption technology known as WAPI, short for WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure. China submitted its WAPI proposal in October, but the ISO instead ruled in favor of the 802.11i encryption standard, developed by the U.S.-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. 8021.11i was backed for approval by 89% of ISO members, while just 32% supported approval of China's WAPI .

ISO's decision sparked an unfavorable reaction from the Chinese standards body, which argues in its appeal that the IEEE failed to follow ethical and procedural rules during the voting process. The ISO and IEC Secretaries General say they received information from SAC after the voting took place, which they reviewed and replied to last week. ISO wouldn't provide further details, but this week's alleged appeal by SAC could be related to ISO's reply.

"It is inaccurate to characterize the [IEEE 802.11i Working Group's] activities as untruthful or uncooperative," the IEEE says in a statement, saying claims made by the Standardization Administration of China weren't supported by facts. The IEEE says its Working Group conducted all its activities in public forums, to which the Chinese standards body was invited.

IEEE's 802.11i is a security amendment to the base 802.11 standard, which addresses the weaknesses in Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, a weaker encryption technology that's vulnerable to intrusion. WAPI is also a security standard to address those shortcomings.

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. That means if implemented, it wouldn't interoperate with current technologies based on 802.11 and would add cost and complexity for manufacturers in China, says the IEEE.

SAC didn't respond to interview requests, but it has hinted in the past that it would increase its efforts to create domestic electronic standards. The IEEE says it's prepared to work with China to "harmonize WAPI technology with existing IEEE and international standards." It's still unclear if SAC wants to do the same.

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