No compromise on WAPI as Intel's Barrett heads to China

Intel Corp. is standing by its decision to not support the security protocol that is at the heart of a trade dispute over China's wireless LAN standard even as the company hopes for an end to the impasse, Intel's CEO said Monday.

China's WLAN standard is very similar to that set by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., known as 802.11 or Wi-Fi. The Chinese standard employs a different security protocol called WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI). The Chinese government requires that all WLAN equipment sold in China after June 1 support WAPI.

"Nothing has really changed in our position with regard to WAPI," said Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO. Barrett was speaking in Taipei on the first stop of an Asian tour that will take him to Beijing later this week.

"We'll sell our Centrino mobile technology up until June 1, and hopefully we'll get this issue resolved before then," Barrett said, adding that the company continues to discuss WAPI with Chinese officials.

China's WLAN standard has provoked concern among U.S. companies and industry groups that it could fracture the market for WLAN equipment. Also creating some apprehension is a requirement that foreign WLAN equipment vendors must license the technology through coproduction agreements with Chinese companies. The U.S. Information Technology Office, a U.S. industry group, has said this provision unfairly requires U.S. companies to share proprietary technology with Chinese companies that may also be competitors.

On March 10, Intel announced that it wouldn't offer a WLAN chip set that supports WAPI in time to meet the Chinese government's deadline. At that time, the company didn't rule out the possibility that it would offer products that support WAPI at a later date.

The U.S. government has also weighed in on the issue. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick sent a letter to senior Chinese government officials in March expressing concern over the implementation of China's WLAN standard and saying that the move created a dangerous precedent for using standards as a barrier to international trade.

"There's some concern over WAPI and the sort of interaction that the Chinese were suggesting [that] we needed to bring our intellectual property to the table to play in the marketplace," Barrett said.

Intel supports the implementation of common international standards rather than multiple variations of the same technology because common standards allow technology to move more rapidly into the marketplace and allow for more innovation, Barrett said.

"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.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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