Did ZTE just shut down?

It’s beginning to look like the writing is on the wall for ZTE. I’ve been mentioning them for years. I’ve talked about how they could have potentially put spyware in their equipment. There’s been speculation that the Chinese government could have used them in attacks on our cellular infrastructure. And now they may actually be no more.

I guess you can’t live without the US market

After being banned by most major carriers as well as Best Buy, the company suffered a crushing blow when the US Government banned component makers from working with them. Because this includes Qualcomm, the dominant maker of chips for Androids as well as Google, many people said it would be impossible for ZTE to actually function. They may have been right.

This morning, Bloomberg and others are reporting that ZTE has ceased operations. The company itself claims this is a short, two-week hiatus to allow for restructuring but it is difficult for me personally to see a way out of this for them. I could imagine some sort of political backchanneling, and certainly we’ve seen unlikely developments in world events in the past, but I really doubt that some last-minute deal between the Chinese and US governments will stop action that have been years in the making.

Will consumers be affected?

Most likely, the effect on consumers will be very minor. If you currently have a ZTE phone, it won’t stop working. As I’ve said before there is currently no evidence of spyware or Chinese government intervention on ZTE-made phones, which were sold by most major carriers under their own names. (In other words, the phone would have had the AT&T logo, not the ZTE logo in most cases.) There are plenty of resources out there to find out who makes a specific model. ZTE’s phones have always been low-end phones; it’s likely that if you have one, you got it for free. Given that, it seems like you could probably get a different free phone if you wanted.

I’m absolutely sure that the major carriers, AT&T included, are well-stocked with low-end phones from other carriers. This shouldn’t affect the supply chain or create shortages. In fact, if you hadn’t read this story you’d probably be unable to see any impact at all.

An unlikely beneficiary?

Certainly other low-end phone makers will benefit and we will probably see some mid-priced phone makers like LG and Sony get a bit more market share as well. There’s no shortage of low-priced phone makers, and not all of them come from China. Those non-Chinese manufacturers are probably chomping at the bit to get contracts with US carriers, which can be incredibly lucrative. Obviously it’s a big chunk of money, or ZTE would have been able to live without it. However, there’s one unlikely beneficiary: Microsoft.

Microsoft has been on a roll lately. After years of experimentation, their once-maligned Surface line of laptops leads the PC pack in quality and performance. They’ve successfully translated Windows from a bloated, crash-prone mess into something fairly modern and surprisingly secure. While I doubt that they’ll ever see anything like the glory days of the Windows 95 rollout, they’ve managed to be surprisingly relevant in a world where the majority of computing takes place on iPhones and Androids.

Do you know where you are, Dolores?

Microsoft has been trying to create a good, pocketable device since 1996, and after a string of forgettable and frustrating phones, they pretty much killed the Windows Phone program last year. Or did they?

This absolutely-not-true and totally fake render has been flying around the internet in recent weeks. It follows the discovery of some code in a future version of Windows that seems to give the operating system phone-like features. Windows Phone devotees — and apparently there are still some — are hoping for a foldable Surface Phone that gives an edge-to-edge screen the size of a larger cell phone and unfolds to create a flawless, gapless, large screen suitable for running Windows 10 Store apps.

If this is actually even close to being true, it could give Microsoft some currency in the mobile space,  currency it’s been trying to gain for two decades.

It’s a long shot, though.

First, Microsoft would have to actually produce a phone that looks like it came out of Westworld and then it would have to actually work. And then, it would have to actually look cool. There have been dual screen phones before and they just haven’t worked well. They’ve been too thick and they’ve really functioned as two screens, not one big screen. This would have to be a phone that was the size and thickness of a premium iPhone or Galaxy and then it would have to automagically turn into a tablet. We all want that but is it really possible?

At any rate, this may be the last article I write about ZTE. I’ll be sad not to have them to kick around anymore, but hey, there’s always Huawei.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.