Amidst controversy over Chinese efforts to impose a local standard for wireless networks, Craig Barrett, the chief executive officer (CEO) of Intel Corp., stressed the importance of international standards during a speech to Chinese government officials and business executives, the company said.
Speaking Thursday in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang, Barrett said open architectures, international standards and cross-platform software are key to developing new IT products, according to Intel.
"The fastest way to move into the rapidly growing digital economy is to adopt standards, which will enable government and businesses to maximize their investments and obtain industry-leading performance at lower cost and with greater choice," Barrett said, according to a company statement.
Barrett's comments come amidst a trade dispute between the U.S. and China over the implementation of a Chinese WLAN (wireless LAN) standard. China's WLAN standard is very similar to the standard set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), known as 802.11 or Wi-Fi, but it uses a different security protocol, called WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure).
China requires all WLAN equipment sold in the country to conform to the local standard after June 1.
To comply with the Chinese standard, foreign companies must license WAPI through coproduction agreements with one of around 20 Chinese companies. U.S. companies and industry groups have said this provision unfairly requires them to share their technology with Chinese companies that may also be competitors.
In March, Intel announced that it would not meet China's deadline to comply with the local WLAN standard and said it had no plans to support WAPI. The company did not rule out supporting the security protocol in future products.
Barrett reaffirmed that position during a visit to Taipei on Monday, noting Intel continues to discuss WAPI with Chinese officials.
"Nothing has really changed in our position with regard to WAPI," Barrett said Monday. "We'll sell our Centrino mobile technology up until June 1 and hopefully we'll get this issue resolved before then."
Barrett also reaffirmed Intel's support for international technology standards.
"Common protocols, common interfaces seem to make the industry work much more efficiently. That's really what has driven the computer industry to be so successful around the world," he said.
Intel is not the only WLAN chipset maker that has declined to support WAPI. Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) also does not have plans to offer products that support WAPI.
"We don't have any plan or product to support WAPI," said Desmond Wong, a TI spokesman, adding that the company supports the adoption of open WLAN standards.
The controversy over WAPI has been building since December last year. In March, the U.S. government voiced its opposition to the implementation of the Chinese WLAN standard in a letter from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to senior Chinese government officials.
"That set off a series of discussions between the various departments in the U.S. government and the Chinese but there's really been nothing definitive to come out of that as of yet," said Dennis Eaton, chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance, in a phone interview Thursday. The Wi-Fi Alliance is an industry group that certifies and promotes 802.11 technology.
Publicly, the dispute over WAPI seems to have reached an impasse, with neither side willing to yield ground on the issue. But behind the scenes both sides continue to discuss the issue, raising expectations that a compromise will eventually be reached.
"From outward appearances it appears like nothing is happening but there is. There is dialog going on, there is ongoing discussion. It's just nothing tangible that can really be reported yet," Eaton said.
"We are optimistic that some compromise or something that satisfies all parties can be met in this situation," he said.