Remember the hoopla over China's proprietary wireless-LAN standard, aka WAPI? One can be forgiven for thinking WAPI was dead.
But it's not. The IEEE may decide next month to pursue WAPI as an 802.11 standard. That's good news. It will show the Chinese that they can try to work within IEEE to win wider support for any other technology standards that may be coming down the pipe. In addition, China is moving WAPI through the International Organization for Standardization process, in part because ISO is global and not an Americanized industry body.
But not all is well. The IEEE process will take at least a year, and the Chinese are already showing little patience with delay. Angry that its fast-track ISO proposal had been indefinitely delayed and suspicious that the body favored the IEEE standard, China walked away last week from the international process. Because some Chinese officials deem IEEE too Americanized, ISO had been a key second track for WAPI.
But in standards making, setbacks are the norm, so an extraordinary effort should be made to maintain cooperation. When the United States and China negotiated a settlement last year that determined WAPI would not be a mandatory and proprietary standard in China, it was seen as a blueprint for bilateral talks on a thorny technology issue. It would be a shame to squander that momentum.
Chances are WAPI will fade away, or at least struggle against more widespread standards suffering the same fate as a few other recent standards in China. But we can only hope that even though the IEEE process may be moot before it really begins, that the Chinese side continues to reach out to IEEE and its member companies, and vice versa.
For all intents and purposes, the WAPI battle may be over, but it can still remind both sides that shaking hands is always better than a fistfight.