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.
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.”
: What China Has to Gain”>
Abracadabra. One month later, the Standardization Administration of China announced it would overhaul the nations technical standards to conform with the WTO/TBT (World Trade Organizations Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade). The Chinese Standardization Administration moved WAPI to the back burner.
Chinas cooperation with the Bluetooth Sig is the latest show of Chinas willingness to join with the world rather than hide behind its Great Wall. One look at the market shows just how much more the country has to gain than to lose by cooperating with the West.
China is poised to become the worlds largest manufacturer of … well, just about everything. And the mobile market, where Bluetooth shines, is in the process of exploding.
According to Chinas National Development and Reform Commission, the country already manufactures more than 35 percent of the worlds mobile phones. There are 1.5 billion television sets and 2.5 billion telephones in use in the Chinese market, 330 million mobile-phone subscribers, more than 79 million Internet users and an automobile market that is red hot.
Foley said that he believes MIIs embrace of Bluetooth will not only “allow them to be more competitive in the world market,” but that the Chinese market is “critical” to the SIG. Bluetooth is poised to become the venue of short-range communications in devices used in homes and automobiles. Presently, there is a huge demand for Bluetooth to provide hands-free mobile phone functions in automobiles.
“It is projected that China will move into the No. 3 slot in the worldwide production of automobiles, supplanting Germany,” Foley said. Japan and the United States hold the top two slots.
Chinese manufacturers have been using the Bluetooth standard but they receive no local support. Bluetooth SIG presently has more than 3,400 members. Just over 160 of them are in China.
According to Foley, the chief advantage of Bluetooth being adopted as a national standard in China is that the Chinese government will localize Bluetooth tools and documentation to the Chinese market. “Just having a translated version of the specification will make the technology approachable for many companies,” said Foley.
The Bluetooth license in China allows the Institute to “use, copy, publish, distribute and translate, but not to modify or sublicense” the Bluetooth specification while making the determination. The move, said Mike Foley, technical director of the Bluetooth SIG, “will make the technology easier for engineers and companies in China that are OEM-ing products.”
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