Intel holds off on support for Chinese Wi-Fi standard

Intel Corp. will not have a wireless chip that supports the security protocol mandated by the Chinese government ready for PC manufacturers in time for a June 1 deadline, an Intel spokesman said Wednesday.

The Chinese government is mandating that all wireless LAN (WLAN) equipment sold in the country after June 1 follow a Chinese wireless standard known as GB15629.11-2003. That standard is similar to the 802.11 standard used by the most other countries, but contains a security protocol known as WAPI (WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) that is not compatible with the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) security protocol used by the 802.11 standard.

Intel will not be able to have a version of its Pro/Wireless WLAN chip that supports WAPI in place by June 1, and it's not sure when such a chip will eventually be ready, said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman.

"Based on our understanding of WAPI, we're not going to make the June 1 deadline. We don't yet have a road map for when we'll do that," Mulloy said. Intel's Centrino package of the Pentium M processor, a mobile chipset, and the WLAN chip has been available in China so far, but after June 1 Intel will just sell the Pentium M processor and the chipset, he said.

The Santa Clara, California, company is concerned about the interoperability of notebooks and access points based on WAPI as well as application support, Mulloy said. Chips with the WAPI protocol require more processor performance and more memory, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Because of these technical issues, Intel doesn't feel it can have a product ready by June that meets its own quality standards, Mulloy said.

By choosing to implement its own standard, China might damage the ability of its PC companies to participate in the global market for WLAN products, Mulloy said. "We're concerned that by mandating a standard that's not compatible, China is taking an approach that has proven ineffective in the past," he said.

Intel might also be worried about the coproduction agreements that foreign vendors have to sign with Chinese companies in order to participate in the Chinese WLAN market. These coproduction agreements could present a number of problems for foreign vendors, such as delays in granting approval of foreign products based on the standard while Chinese companies are able to quickly get to market, according to the U.S. Information Technology Office.

Intel is not closing the door on manufacturing WAPI-equipped chips, but it needed to inform its customers that it would not be able to comply with the June deadline, Mulloy said.

"We are still in discussion with a number of officials in China, and we are still looking for a solution," Mulloy said.

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