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China wireless standard stops suppliers
Suman Srinivasan

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Intel and Broadcom, two leading suppliers of wireless chips, have announced that they will stop selling Wi-Fi chips in China in June 2004 because they will be unable to incorporate the wireless encryption standard defined by the Chinese government.

Both companies indicated that they did not have enough information about Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure to implement it into their Wi-Fi chips by the June 1 compliance deadline the government set.

WAPI is the encryption standard authorized in China for use with the wireless Internet. The encryption was developed in China by 11 local firms and is controlled by them. All other standards for wireless Internet encryption, such as the upcoming international standard called Wi-Fi Protected Access (IEEE 802.11i), are illegal in China .

There are international concerns about the WAPI standard. Concerns about intellectual property protection is widespread among foreign tech companies worried that they would have to provide Chinese firms with the information. There is also trepidation that the Chinese companies could levy enormous fees for licensing, or delay providing the information in order to get a head start in the wireless market.

The U.S. government and tech companies are lobbying China to change its stance on WAPI. Members of the international Wi-Fi Alliance are talking with Chinese government agencies to understand what exactly WAPI entails.

This means that users of mobile laptops that have wireless cards that support the hugely popular Wi-Fi IEEE 802.11x may not be able to access the Internet in China wirelessly until vendors implement chips that support WAPI.

For years, the Chinese government has denied its citizens access to any information on the Internet that has been deemed “politically subversive.” Websites that provide information about the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre, Tibet or the persecution of the spiritual group Falun Gong have been blocked. The Chinese government spends a vast amount of money making sure these restrictions are reinforced.

It is not yet clear how the WAPI standard will affect the tightly monitored Internet traffic in China, or whether it is another salvo launched by the Chinese government to prevent its citizens from freely accessing the Internet.

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