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Wi-Fi crypto - China calls foul

'Amoral' standards group in 'conspiracy' claim

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China says the international standards group IEEE is engaging in a 'conspiracy' and 'amoral behaviour' to defeat its home grown encryption technology for wireless networks, WAPI.

A Chinese delegation walked out of a meeting on Thursday last week in Prague, claiming unfair treatment. The standards committee, dominated by Western manufacturers, is seeking to endorse 802.11i as the preferred crypto technology instead. State owned news outlets say the IEEE failed to observe its own rules after only seven out of 17 countries opposing WAPI attended the vote.

"The monopoly force from the American standard maker IEEE poisoned the voting process and created an unfair atmosphere at the Prague meeting," a delegate told the Xinhua news agency.

China believes the Western manufacturers' wireless encryption is inadequate, objects to paying royalties for it, and wants to foster its home grown technology industry.

China's frustration with the standards process is understandable. Vendor representatives at the IEEE quibbled over trivia for years - the standards process began in 1994, but products didn't reach market until the end of the decade.

When 802.11b finally appeared, it featured a risible encryption technology, WEP, which could be cracked in seconds. And 802.11 has failed to produced much of a standard since, endorsing an alphabet soup of quasi-'standards' that confuse the public and IT buyers. With 802.11 in such a mess, one can hardly blame the Chinese for trusting their own technology rather more.

WAPI was mandated to be the default encryption for China's home produced WLAN products from 1 June 2004. An eleventh hour trade deal - in which, interestingly, China dropped its objections to GM crops - saw China promise to sideline development of its own 3G technology TD-SCDMA, and WAPI. Intel had threatened to stop selling Wi-Fi products in China unless it got its way.

However, it's now clear that China had no intention of relegating its own technology to the back burner. An impressive showing from vendors at 3GSM in Barcelona this year (see China to Qualcomm: er, you and whose army?) showed that TD-SCDMA is very real indeed.

"China has lost another valuable opportunity to constructively discuss the technical merits of the two security amendments," IEEE board chairman Steve Mills said in a statement. ®

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