The wireless standard that won't go away

Posted by: Bruce Einhorn on March 12, 2006

Give credit to the electronics mandarins in Beijing. When it comes to jump starting a home-grown tech standard for mobile computing, they refuse to take no for an answer. Two years ago, the regulators tried to make a Made-in-China wireless LAN standard, called WAPI (for Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure), the one and only such standard allowed in China. American companies like Intel, which would have had to team up with Chinese companies in order to sell WAPI equipment in China, raised a stink and eventually the Chinese government backed down. But WAPI didn’t die. According to a report in EE Times, the Chinese have tried to get WAPI approved by the International Organization for Standardization. The ISO has said no, preferring instead IEEE’s 802.11i. Yet WAPI still isn’t dead, with a new Chinese consortium to promote it announced last week.

Why not just throw in the towel on WAPI? One reason is that it is part of a bigger effort on the part of the Chinese to establish China as a global technology player. Countries as big and powerful as China should have a say in determining what technologies become global standards, the thinking goes. That’s why China has also spend years and years trying to develop a home-grown 3G standard called TD-SCDMA. But so far the effort seems to be a flop. No one outside China wants WAPI, and there’s not exactly a huge amount of enthusiasm for TD-SCMDA either. Companies much prefer international standards over those associated with one country - even a country as big as China.

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