ISO Says “No” to WAPI, China is Not Amused, and Intel is “Mute”

As noted in my post of a few days ago, it was expected that last week's ISO vote on whether to adopt the IEEE WiFi specification or the Chinese WAPI submission would come out in favor of WiFi. As early as Sunday, word began to leak that the vote had in fact favored the IEEE alternative — and decisively so (with 86% in favor of WiFi and only 22% for WAPI). Later in the week, this result was confirmed, and China state forcefully that it would not take the vote as the last word.

Meanwhile, Intel, which has worked hard for years to ensure that WiFi would win and WAPI would not, has yet to learn whether its high risk strategy of winning the wireless battle while not losing China will pay off. It is no surprise that China is both unhappy with the result, as well as determined to push WAPI domestically — a position it made clear in advance of the close of the ISO voting period. For example, in an article that appeared in Peoples Daily Online the day before the ISO voting window closed, an unnamed official of the Standardization Administration of China (SAC) stated: “Whether or not WAPI is adopted as an international standard will not change its wide application in China’s domestic market.

The same article traces the history of the WiFi-WAPI standoff over the past three years from the Chinese perspective, highlighting two themes: the ongoing charges by Chinese standards officials that the WiFi standard still includes security “loopholes,” and that Intel “dominates” IEEE, and has abused the IEEE and ISO process in order to get it’s way.

The following outtakes from the same article summarize the first allegation:

Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) is a solution to the security loophole of the existing 802.11 standard of wireless local area networks (WLAN). In direct competition against 802.11i dominated by Intel, the technology is waiting for final voting to determine whether it is adopted as the international standard. The deadline is March 7. …

Developed by IWNCOMM, a private company in Northwest China’s hi-tech center Xi’an City, WAPI has attracted wide attention from both the domestic and overseas IT markets for its sound security to wireless networks….Mobile communications expert Li Jinliang said that the technological defects of 11i are obvious and well-known and have been brought to the attention of the International Standard Organization (ISO) by Chinese engineers….

And on the second point, the article is even more blunt:

Last October, WAPI was proposed to the ISO for adoption as an international standard. The process, however, quickly encountered problems. Even during the time waiting for a final vote, the American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), dominated by Intel, violated ISO rules to spread rumors about WAPI, said Cao Jun, deputy director of the China Broadband Wireless IP Standard Group.

IEEE made unfavorable remarks about WAPI to prevent it from becoming a national or international standard, said Cao.

The organization and its representatives have produced anti-WAPI documents and asked participating members to vote against WAPI using arguments that IEEE has developed, said a letter sent in the name of Chinese National Body to concerned ISO members on February 23.

China believes that IEEE’s anti-WAPI campaign has gone beyond normal standardization boundaries and violated many ISO rules and principles, the letter said.

China has found that IEEE has been engaged in many illicit activities against WAPI in the past 18 months. A document produced by the organization in Sept. 2005 to prevent WAPI from entering the fast track ballot simultaneously with 11i on Oct. 7, 2005. The organization produced another document in Nov. last year aiming at mobilizing negative votes against WAPI and favorable votes for 11i, the letter said.

Intel, too, made use of its control of media resources to slander WAPI, said Cao.

The article includes several statements that are not factually accurate. For example, it claims that “The American National Institute of Standards and Technology has also expressed doubts about the security of 11i and said that it may not choose it,” which is both factually and procedurally inaccurate — ANSI does not “choose” standards, but accredits the organizations that develop standards.

But in fact the IEEE process has become increasingly contentious, especially in the wireless area (see, for example, the Feature Article in last month’s Consortium Standards Bulletin, titled The Unruly Emergence of the Digital Home). So how contentious were the IEEE and ISO processes, and did anyone step over the line?

According to a article that was posted on March 12:

In other comments, some ISO members also noted the intense lobbying they were subjected to during the five-month balloting process. During that period, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group released detailed arguments against WAPI, which spurred angry responses from the Chinese national standards body and worsened tensions between the groups.

Not long after, ISO confirmed that the vote had gone heavily in favor WiFi, with only 8 votes being cast in favor of WAPI. The Chinese response was even more blunt after the bad news came down than it had been when the result had only been feared. The following is from an official government release issued through the Xinhaua news service, and posted at on March 13:

China will appeal to ISO for “fair position” of China’s home-grown WLAN security technology WAPI which was voted down in the fast track ballot for international standard last week, according to sources with China BWIPS Monday. In a statement issued here Monday, China BWIPS (China Broadband Wireless IP standard Group) called for fair position of the country’s home-grown WLAN (wireless local area networks) security technology WAPI…. Describing the ballot result as “unjust for WAPI”, the ChinaBWIPS statement said that it is “unfairly influenced by IEEE’s unethical behavior and prejudices”. IEEE is the American organization that made the 802.11i standard….

China’s WAPI experienced a hard voting process as current WLAN market is dominated by Intel and it may hurt the interests of the monopoly group owning the existing technology to adopt WAPI as an international standard, said [Li Jinlang, a Chinese expert in telecom].

“We have noticed that during the comment and balloting periods, American IEEE and its representatives have used a lot of dirty tricks including deception, misinformation, confusion and reckless charging to lobby against WAPI,” said ChinaBWIPS in its statement. The statement said that the ballot result reached under such a situation is unfair, unreasonable and cannot be accepted.

ChinaBWIPS also accused American IEEE of violating ISO rules to provide excuses to some national bodies for voting against WAPI. The organization collected a series of evidences for that accusation and listed them on its official website.

China would not accept the “hypocritical proposal of forcing the seriously handicapped 11i proposal into international standard” and then using Chinese WAPI’s advanced technology to fix the security loopholes of 11i, said ChinaBWIPS.

The news release repeats the claims that WiFi is inadequate with respect to security, and also states that China is not yet willing to concede defeat:

The end of fast track ballot does not mean whether a proposal has become or rejected from international standards, said ChinaBWIPS. According to ISO rules, fast track ballot is a step in international standardization and will be followed by ballot resolution meeting and review by headquarters of ISO/IEC, the sub-commission under ISO responsible for the issue. ChinaBWIPS said it would request relevant agencies in China to start formal contact with ISO/IEC management and supervisory bodies on this issue and seek redress.

“We will present all information to ISO/IEC headquarters and request ISO/IEC central secretariats to immediately adopt measures, to correct the misconducts during the comment and ballot processes,” said the standard group in its statement.

A possibility for a compromise resolution was noted in the comments included in some ISO ballots. As reported in the ComputerWorld article noted, above:

Despite the rejection, this might not be the end of the road for WAPI. Many ISO members expressed a desire to see a “harmonization” between the standards. Yet it was clear that 802.11i would be the foundation of any such attempt. “We believe that elements of 1N7904 (WAPI) provide mechanisms that are potentially valuable additions to ISO/IEC 8802-11 and other standards in the future. … We do not therefore consider that while voting approval for 1N7903 (802.11i ) it is not seen as the final step in the journey. There will always be a need for improved security mechanisms to provide new features and defend against new threats,” said the New Zealand national standards body.

And what of Intel, which has worked hard to win this wireless standards war?

Interestingly enough, Intel is keeping a low profile, as reported in a Reuters interview conducted in Shanghai earlier today. According to this article, Intel has been losing market share in the vast and growing Chinese marketplace (as well as globally) to AMD for years, dropping from a 90% Chinese market share in 2001 to only 74% in 2004, while AMD has risen from 5 to 18% during the same time period (Intel wouldn’t disclose its current market share in the interview).

Not surprisingly, Intel is determined to reverse the trend:

“We’re very confident we’re going to get our share back (worldwide),” Ian Yang, Intel’s general manager for Asia Pacific, told Reuters in an interview. “We will do the same in China.”

The question thus arises — is sticking a sharp stick in China’s eye on WAPI the best way to build market share? True, Intel is also heavily investing in local manufacturing in China and taking other measures to advance its cause in China. But at best, Intel seems to be walking a dangerously high wire in adopting a dual strategy of confrontation while seeking market expansion. How confident is Intel on that score? The Reuters interview article reports as follows:

Separately, Yang was muted on the recent rejection by world body International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) of a Chinese short-distance wireless standard called WAPI, which would compete with a more commonly used wi-fi standard in the West….

“Given the recent developments in China related to WAPI, Intel is working to understand the details of the government procurement policy and its implication to our business,” Yang said, adding he would make no further comment until the evaluation was completed.

If recent news releases from the Chinese government are indicative, Mr. Yang may not be pleased with the results of that evaluation.

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Comments (1)

  1. It seems odd to me that a country which denies to their population basic rights such as freedom of speech and privacy is trying to impose to the world a technology that’s in theory supposed to protect those very same rights. I wonder what kinds of “precaution measures” they must have implemented in their WAPI to prevent this kind of “misuse”.

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