China to propose WLAN security standard for global use again

The WAPI protocol's previous rejection by an international body infuriated Chinese backers

China will submit its wireless LAN security protocol to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as a global standard, years after its rejection by the standards body incensed Chinese backers.

China will handle "follow-up application arrangements" after a resolution by the international group encouraging it to submit the protocol, Huang Zhenhai, secretary general of the semi-official China Broadband Wireless IP Standard Working Group, said in an e-mail Tuesday.

A submission would build on China's frustrated efforts to win global recognition for technologies developed in the country, including the wireless protocol, WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure). China has promoted WAPI as a potential addition to the standards for Wi-Fi, which it sees as a step to marketing equipment that uses the protocol abroad.

When the ISO turned down the Chinese protocol three years ago, it instead adopted the IEEE 802.11i security specification developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and widely used in Wi-Fi networks globally. Huang's group responded by accusing the IEEE of committing "unethical and unjust activities trying to destroy WAPI."

The 802.11i specification was intended to improve on the security of the earlier Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) specification for WLANs. The newer WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) security system found in most Wi-Fi devices on the market today uses parts of 802.11i.

China's WAPI turned up again early this month, when a joint standards committee under the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) passed the resolution welcoming an application for the protocol. WAPI could be considered as an alternative protocol for the groups' joint WLAN standards, according to the resolution, which was seen by IDG News Service on Tuesday and was passed by a subcommittee of the ISO and IEC's Joint Technical Committee 1.

China's planned application follows a rise in efforts to promote WAPI domestically in recent months. At least two of China's three mobile carriers have started requiring WAPI support on all newly purchased WLAN equipment this year. Further, mobile phone makers including Motorola have announced plans to release handsets this year that support both WAPI and the IEEE equivalent for Wi-Fi, marking the first time phones with any WLAN ability have been cleared for sale in the country.

But WAPI's acceptance as an international standard is far from guaranteed. The decision will be subject to a member vote and an administrative process that usually takes up to three years for new standards, a representative of the subcommittee that passed the resolution said. WAPI overwhelmingly lost the vote when it was last considered by ISO, partly due to concerns about Chinese secrecy surrounding the protocol.

Despite government support, WAPI also remains largely unknown in China. Laptop users in coffee shops and restaurants surf the Internet using widely offered Wi-Fi, but not secured by the Chinese standard.

Still, Huang's group is one of a handful in China tirelessly promoting the protocol. The group will "continue to actively implement strategies to promote WAPI as an international standard," he said.

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Owen Fletcher

IDG News Service
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