March 05, 2004, 8:14 AM — Three senior U.S. government officials this week weighed in on the controversy surrounding China's implementation of a national standard for WLANs (wireless LANs) with a letter to senior Chinese officials that described the move as a barrier against international trade, a U.S. trade group said Thursday.
The letter to Chinese Vice Premiers Wu Yi and Zeng Peiyan, which was signed by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, expressed concern over China's implementation of a mandatory standard for WLAN technologies and said the move created a dangerous precedent for using standards as a barrier to international trade, according to the U.S. Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), which issued a statement welcoming the move.
The letter will bring a measure of additional diplomatic pressure on China to negotiate a compromise over the issue, said Glyn Truscott, a consultant at market analyst BDA China Ltd. in Beijing. "It's turning up the heat a little bit," he said.
The controversy over WLAN standards began last year with China's adoption of a national standard for WLANs. The Chinese standard, called GB15629.11-2003, is very similar to the IEEE 802.11 standard, commonly known as Wireless Fidelity or Wi-Fi, but it uses a different security protocol, called WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI). While the standard took effect on Dec. 1 last year, the compliance deadline for some products has been pushed back until June 1.
Chinese and foreign companies that sell WLAN equipment in China must ensure that their products comply with the Chinese standard by that date. However, industry executives have warned that a separate standard for WLAN equipment sold in China could divide the wireless networking market.
"We believe that mandatory implementation of the WAPI protocols would unnecessarily fracture the world market for WLAN products," Paul Nikolich, chairman of the IEEE 802 Local and Metropolitan Area Network Standards Committee, wrote in a letter dated Nov. 23 to Li Zhonghai, chairman of the Standardization Administration of China, and Wang Xudong, China's minister of information industry.
The Chinese WLAN standard has also caused controversy for provisions that require foreign companies to work with Chinese partners. Foreign companies are required to license WAPI through coproduction agreements with one of 24 Chinese companies that have been granted the rights by the Chinese government to license the technology. The U.S. Information Technology Office (USITO), a trade group, has said this provision unfairly forces foreign companies to grant their Chinese coproduction partners access to their technology.