Wireless-LAN chip suppliers owe Intel a big thank-you for its public stance against China's wireless security policy. But you'll never hear it.
Not publicly, at least.
Privately, some will at least acknowledge that they were elated to see Intel stick its neck out and announce that it would not be able to support China's wireless security protocol by the country's mandated June 1 deadline. China's home-grown wireless-LAN security standard-called the WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure, or WAPI-is different from the IEEE-defined security specifications. Not worse, necessarily. Just different.
Like Intel, most WLAN chip set suppliers weren't interested in supporting 802.11's emerging security features as well as a second, proprietary protocol, solely for the Chinese market. But most weren't willing to say so.
So what to do? How do you walk that tightrope? How do you convey the message to the Chinese government without risking its ire? With all the frenetic investment that China is attracting, the risk could be substantial.
It's a classic game theory scenario. And, as you study the matrix of risk-reward outcomes, the path with the least possible risk and greatest reward becomes abundantly clear: Keep your mouth shut, and hope that someone else speaks up.
It's what many of the other players did. Thankfully for them, Intel spoke up.
After behind-the-scenes efforts failed, Intel earlier this year decided to announce publicly that it wouldn't be able to support WAPI-which meant that there would be no Centrino-branded systems in China come summer. (The Centrino brand, recall, requires that the Pentium M processor be paired with Intel Wi-Fi and system logic.)
Intel weathered some tense moments. But, finally, China relented.
Do you know who stepped up in support of Intel? Just Broadcom, ironically. None of the others were likely to meet China's deadline, either. But none of them would say so. Some even came out and said they intended to support WAPI.
They let Intel stand all alone, neck in noose.
Now, Intel didn't single-handedly get China to back down from that June 1 mandate. But it did play a big role in getting the issue on the table during trade talks last month-when China backed off. Intel deserves credit for that.
But you won't hear thanks from its competitors. You won't hear anything.
Except maybe a sigh of relief.
Mike Feibus is principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies Inc., a market research firm in Scottsdale, Ariz., that focuses on components for mobile systems. Reach him at email@example.com.