Intel asks China to drop local WLAN spec

1 June deadline

Intel is still hoping to persuade China to block a move to mandate a local wireless LAN standard on 1 June and allow it to continue selling its Centrino platform there after that date.

Speaking to reporters in Taipei today, Intel CEO Craig Barrett said: "We haven't changed our basic position. We will sell our Centrino mobile technology up until 1 June. Hopefully, we'll get the issue resolved before then."

Said "issue" is the Chinese government's insistence that companies who want to sell WLAN equipment in China must follow its own Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) standard.

WAPI was published last May in a bid to address the Chinese government's concerns that existing WLAN security standards were insufficiently strong. WAPI was to have become effective on 1 December 2003. However, lobbying on the part of the US government persuaded the Chinese to put back the deadline to June this year.

Locally mandated specifications are one thing, but the Chinese government is demanding that foreign firms to partner with companies on a pre-selected list of 24 local manufacturers in order to obtain the import permits they will need to sell WLAN kit in China.

Both requirements have proved too much for Intel, which in March said it would stop selling WLAN products ahead of the 1 June deadline. Intel believes China should satisfy itself with the 802.11 set of standards. "I am a firm believer that international standards allow more rapid movement of technology," said Barrett today.

Wi-Fi chipmaker Broadcom shares Intel's view, but Atheros, Linksys and Texas Instruments have said they will comply with China's WAPI requirement.

The Wi-Fi market is currently worth around $3bn. China accounts for a tiny fraction of that, but its WLAN arena will grow to $520m by 2005, analysts predict.

"China is such a strategic market," said an official of the state-backed group behind WAPI last month. "I think Intel should calm down." ®

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