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Comms chips

Intel's Chipset Diplomacy

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has played down reports that it plans to boycott the Chinese government's requirement that foreign vendors implement a homegrown encryption specification on wireless LAN equipment they sell into the domestic market. Instead, it's citing technical concerns as the reason why it will stop selling the complete Centrino 802.11 chipset in China by June 1.

There has been an uproar in the tech community since the Chinese government first released the Wired Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure (WAPI) protocol -- which, naturally, doesn't work with any other WiFi specs known to man -- and said that foreign vendors would have to work with a select band of domestic firms in order to get the spec implemented on their products (see Chinese Security Snafu Looms). Intel spokesman Chuck Malloy told Unstrung that Intel was unable to meet the June 1 deadline to implement the Chinese security spec because of interoperability and performance issues. "It would not meet customer requirements," says Malloy.

The upshot of this is as that -- as of June 1 -- Intel will have to whip out the wireless LAN smarts from the Centrino motherboard. [Ed. note: This would make it a standard Pentium M board or near as dammit, wouldn't it?] This isn't great news for a high-volume chipmaker wanting to sell into the fast growing Chinese market.

Malloy says that Intel has already undertaken several months of technical work with the Chinese government to try and figure out a way to implement WAPI and will continue to do so, but he was unable to say when Intel will bring out products that support the specification.

"We had to be straight with our customers about this," he says.

And despite its cooperation with the Chinese, Malloy does add that Intel disagrees in principle with the government's plans to break with the rest of the world. "China is taking an approach that has historically been proven ineffective in the global IT market," Malloy notes.

The Bush administration also recently weighed in on this issue, sending a letter to Beijing urging ministers to back down from the WAPI plans, saying it was against international guidelines and harmful to U.S. commercial interests [ed. note: although it is the only encryption specification visible from space].

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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