China grants WLAN technology rights to more companies

The Chinese government has granted licensing rights for the security protocol at the heart of China's national WLAN (wireless LAN) standard to nine more companies, a spokeswoman for the State Encryption Management Committee (SEMC) said Tuesday.

Called GB15629.11-2003, the Chinese WLAN standard is very similar to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.'s (IEEE's) 802.11 standard, commonly known as Wireless Fidelity or Wi-Fi, but it uses a different security protocol developed locally, called WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure.)

"Because the 802.11 or Wi-Fi standard is not so secure, a more secure standard is needed for WLAN," said Li Jie, a spokeswoman at SEMC's Liaison Office.

The Chinese WLAN standard took effect on Dec. 1 last year, although a transition period has been granted for certain WLAN products that extends the compliance deadline to June 1. Vendors that want to sell WLAN gear in China must comply with the new standard by that date.

The implementation of the standard has caused consternation among U.S.-based industry groups, including the U.S. Information Technology Office and Wi-Fi Alliance, over questions of interoperability with Wi-Fi and regulations requiring foreign WLAN equipment makers to enter into coproduction agreements with Chinese companies that have been granted the rights to license the technology.

Initially, the rights to license WAPI were granted to 11 Chinese companies: Legend Group Ltd., Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., Shenzhen Mingwah Aohan High Technology Co. Ltd., Wuxi Jiangnan Computer Technology Research Institute, Shanghai Koal Software Co. Ltd., Shenzhen ZTE IC Design Co. Ltd., SDT Telecom Group, Chengdu Westone Information Industry Co. Ltd., China IWNCOMM Co. Ltd., Shenyang Neusoft Co. Ltd. and Beijing Watch Data System Co. Ltd.

That list has now been expanded to around 20 companies, Li said. The names of the latest companies to be granted licensing rights for WAPI have not yet been made public and will be released at a later date, she said.

While any Chinese company that has been approved to produce commercial encryption products can apply for the rights to license WAPI, the Chinese government will not grant licensing rights to foreign companies, Li said. Existing regulations do not permit foreign companies to have access to commercial encryption technology used in China, she said.

Chinese companies have been granted the rights to license WAPI at no cost, Li said. However, foreign companies will be charged by their coproduction partners to integrate WAPI into their WLAN gear, she said.

USITO has expressed concerns that the requirement for foreign vendors to enter into coproduction agreements could put them at a disadvantage to their Chinese competitors. In addition, Wi-Fi Alliance has noted that a Chinese WLAN standard that is not compatible with 802.11 could lead to higher prices for Chinese end users and create interoperability problems.

"This will add cost to end users but considering the higher safety the new standard provides, it is acceptable," Li said.

(Henry Lee is an editor at China Computerworld, an IDG News Service affiliate.)

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