Bluetooth in China: What a Difference a Year Makes

Opinion: China's recent interest in Bluetooth contrasts sharply with the battle over the competing WAPI and 802.11i with AES that separated East from West only last year.

In the ocean of big and noisy debates that surround the push for wireless standards, one small but quiet ripple this month went largely unnoticed. But it represents a sea change in the effort to ensure that standards, once adopted, get adopted worldwide.

While working groups of the IEEE were working their way through proposals for 802.11n, the Bluetooth Sig tiptoed over to China and introduced the Bluetooth short-range connectivity specification as a copyright license to the Chinese PTISRI (Post and Telecom Industry Standardization Research Institute) of the Chinese MII (Ministry for Information and Industry). It was Bluetooths first step to becoming a national standard in China.

Whats most interesting about this development is that Bluetooth may well find its way into Chinas body of standards before newer standards on the drawing board draw official breath.

Mike Foley, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, told me he hopes to see some movement within the next few months. The timeline for the standards process in China, he said, "is somewhat up to MII. I think they do take it as a priority."

That news comes in refreshing contrast to the debate over wireless standards in China that beset the industry just one year ago.

It was almost exactly a year ago that wireless chip vendors in the U.S.—Intel, Texas Instruments and Broadcom chief among them—were locked in a dispute with Chinese officials over the countrys plan to embrace the WAPI (Wireless LAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure) encryption standard over the IEEEs 802.11i Wi-Fi security standard which uses AES (Advanced Encryption Standard).

To the Chinese government, WAPI seemed like a good idea at the time.

The country manufactures about half of the worlds laptop computers, although most of those are produced for foreign firms—and most of those firms are Taiwanese. The idea was to develop Chinese standards that could be used by Chinese companies to produce equipment sold to the Chinese market at a profit that would come back chiefly to Chinese companies and not for offshore firms.

Local standards would also let local manufacturers avoid licensing fees, fees that rolled right back into Western capitalist pockets.

There was one problem. In a worldwide economy, a standard is hardly a standard unless it is truly worldwide, and the rest of the world didnt much cotton to Chinas game plan.

/zimages/6/28571.gifDavid Coursey has some concerns about recent Chinese moves regarding Taiwan. Click here to find out why.

Chinas hardball trade tactics caught the attention of the White House, and on March 15, 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans let Beijing know that nothing about the Chinese plan was going down well in Washington.

"...Implementation of this standard will make Chinese products incompatible with internationally accepted standards, isolating China from the larger world market for these types of devices," the U.S. dignitaries wrote. "We are particularly concerned that the new rules would require foreign suppliers to enter into joint ventures with Chinese companies and transfer technology to them. Such compelled investment and technology transfer would appear to be inconsistent with Chinas WTO commitments."

Next page: What China has to gain.