Standards wars are not usually considered to be very newsworthy outside of the technical niche in which they occur, but occasionally there's a breakout story that receives much wider attention. A recent example was the frontal assault of multiple countries directed at wresting control of the root directory of the Internet - a small but very important standard - from the United States. That skirmish completely monopolized press coverage of the Tunis meeting of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) last November.
But before that, there was an even higher level confrontation, this time over a close-range wireless networking standard. That dispute involved the IEEE 802.11 standards family commonly referred to as WiFi, on the one hand, and a Chinese-origin standard called WLAN on the other. More particularly, it involved a security protocol (called WAPI) included in WLAN that China contends provides superior security protection than does WiFi.
The original WiFi-WAPI conflict arose from the announcement by China that only WAPI-enabled equipment could be sold in the Peoples Republic of China beginning in 2004, which would reverse the situation from one requiring Chinese manufacturers from paying high patent royalties to companies like Intel to one where Western vendors would find themselves in the opposite position.
Publicly, Intel and other chip vendors announced that they would refuse to sell microprocessors in China if the requirement was imposed. Privately, they headed to Washington for help, since of course they had no desire to lose access to so vast a market. The dispute worked its way up through diplomatic channels until ultimately then-Secretary of State Colin Powell became involved. Eventually, China postponed the effectiveness of the home-grown standards requirement.
But what had been brokered was only a truce, and not a final resolution to the dispute. Now, that dispute is flaring up again, and it is the Chinese standards delegation this time that is calling in the diplomatic corps to engage with the opposition.