China-based ZTE may not be what you’d call a top smartphone vendor in the Western Hemisphere, but just like compatriot Huawei, the OEM was escalating its US ambitions when the local government and various regulators started posing challenges to its foreign expansion efforts. In addition to cyber espionage suspicions, both ZTE’s telecommunications equipment and consumer hardware businesses are being threatened by relations with Iran, which recently led to a comprehensive supply ban.
Basically, for the next seven years, the company cannot source any smartphone components from US partners, including Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips and modems, Dolby sound systems, and potentially, Android software as well. While Google’s OS is of course completely open to customization of any sort and free to use without the search giant’s express consent, certain essential mobile services might be prohibited from running on ZTE handsets going forward.
We’re mainly talking about access to the official Play Store, as well as key Google-developed apps like Gmail, Chrome, Maps or YouTube, licensed separately from the core Android code under the Google Mobile Services name. If ZTE loses permission to load the GMS package onto Axons and various popular low-cost prepaid phones, said products are effectively dead outside of China. Unless the company builds its own alternatives, its own app store or chooses to rely on existing Google surrogates.
For the time being, Google parent company Alphabet and ZTE are said to be merely discussing the best way to proceed and, ideally, continue to work together. No official statements have been provided by the two, and the situation on the whole is described as “unclear.” Obviously, the ban came as a sudden, painful blow for ZTE’s growth aspirations.