War of Wireless Protocols

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The International Organization for Standardization, the Geneva-based body that establishes global industrial standards, rejected China’s wireless encryption standard in favor of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ standard known as 802.11i as the foundation for a more secure wireless protocol to be used globally. The rejection is seen as a blow to Beijing’s effort to promote its Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) for computers and telecommunications in order to reduce reliance on foreign technology and give its companies a competitive edge. China is the world’s biggest mobile phone market, with more than 400 million customers, and the second-largest Internet market after the United States, with more than 100 million people online.

Despite rejecting WAPI in March, many ISO members expressed a desire to see a “harmonization” between the standards. EE Times, the electronics industry newspaper of record, quoted the New Zealand standards body as saying that elements of WAPI “provide mechanisms that are potentially valuable additions to ISO/IEC 8802-11 and other standards in the future. …We do not therefore consider that while voting approval for 1N7903 (802.11i), this vote is not seen as the final step in the journey. There will always be a need for improved security mechanisms to provide new features and defend against new threats.”

China contends that WAPI is more secure than 802.11i, which was developed by a group led by Intel Corp., the world’s biggest computer chip maker. China has created a 22-member group of companies to promote WAPI that includes Lenovo Group, the world’s No. 3 PC maker, and Huawei Technologies, a leading maker of switching equipment.

Global interoperability and access to the technology are at the heart of the controversy over WAPI. ISO members worry that its development was closed to outsiders and that China has released too little information about it. Companies also complain that access to its technology is limited to 11 government-selected Chinese companies.