More than 20 Chinese companies yesterday formed an industrial alliance to jointly promote WAPI, a home-grown encryption standard for wireless local area network (WLAN) equipment.
The landmark move, backed by the Chinese government, underlines the country's increasing determination to reduce reliance on foreign vendors at a time when "independent innovation" has become a catchphrase.
And that might revive the WAPI tussle between China and the United States, the most serious high-tech trade dispute between the two countries in recent years.
WAPI (wireless authentication and privacy infrastructure) differs from the existing global standard, which is backed mainly by US chipmaker Intel and is widely regarded as less secure.
Twenty-two Chinese firms, including big names such as the Founder Group, Lenovo, Hisense, Haier, Huawei Technologies, Datang Mobile and Datang Microelectronics Technology, became the founding members of the WAPI Industrial Alliance yesterday.
Some foreign technology vendors are also expected to join the group.
US-based Conexant Broadband Communications, a leading global maker of chips for broadband communications, has applied for membership, which could be approved soon, Roger Hu, director of the firm's Beijing research and development (R&D) centre, told China Daily.
The Chinese government has, in recent years, been pushing forward the establishment of an industrial alliance to better support home-grown technology standards such as TD-SCDMA for 3G (third generation) mobile communications and IGRS for digital home appliances.
The forming of the WAPI Industrial Alliance will help facilitate the development of WAPI-compatible network equipment, according to Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).
"Domestic standard groups should work with international organizations to turn WAPI into a global standard," he said. The vice-minister said WAPI would better "guarantee China's information security."
US technology firms have developed the 802.11i standard, an upgrade version of the 802.11 with enhanced security, but industry experts said it still has inherent technical defects. A working group under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was scheduled to meet yesterday in Geneva to decide which, WAPI or 802.11i, should be adopted as a global standard.
Cao Jun, general manager of China IWNComm Co Ltd, a major developer of WAPI, accused Intel of applying pressure to members of the group to block WAPI from becoming a global standard.
"Intel needs to abide by business ethics," he told reporters. "It's absurd for Intel to market and sell technologies with serious security loopholes."
The Chinese government tried to mandate the WAPI standard as a national standard on June 1, 2004, which drew strong opposition from US technology vendors and the US government.
Intel has provided the most vocal in opposition to WAPI as the 802.11 standard is used in Intel's famous Centrino processors.
Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, Commerce Secretary Don Evans and US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick even sent a joint letter to Chinese State leaders, urging them to drop the WAPI standard.
The Chinese government later indefinitely delayed the implementation of WAPI and since then has been urging domestic standard groups to increase efforts to turn WAPI into a global standard. But a Chinese delegation complained it encountered unfair treatment at a conference, organized by the ISO to discuss the WLAN security protocol early last year.
Cao also said Intel has been lobbying conference organizers to refuse a proposal from the Chinese delegation to discuss the WAPI and IEEE802.11i proposal together.
(China Daily March 8, 2006)