Hundreds of millions of smartphone users have been dragged into the trade war between the United States and China.

News that Google plans to sever its Android operating system ties with Chinese handset maker Huawei will have a profound effect on consumers across the globe.

The decision means that Huawei users will start losing access to Google’s proprietary services such as Gmail and Google Maps, and be shut out of future upgrades to Android on their smartphones.

Already US chipmakers have stopped supplying the Chinese telecom giant with semi-conductors crucial to its consumer division.

“We are complying with the order and reviewing the implications,” a Google spokesperson told AFP, referring to the decision by President Donald Trump to add Huawei to a list of companies that American firms cannot trade with unless they have a license because of national security issues.

The Chinese high-tech group sold nearly 203 million phones last year, up from 150 million in 2017, according to data tracking firm Gartner, overtaking Apple and threatening Samsung’s top spot.

But Trump’s move could seriously dent sales in the West, including the lucrative markets in European Union countries.

“We assure you while we are complying with all US gov’t requirements, services like Google Play & security from Google Play Protect will keep functioning on your existing Huawei device,” Google’s official @Android account tweeted.

Software patches

Still, because of the ban, Google will have to halt business activities with Huawei that involve direct transfer of hardware, software and technical services that are not publicly available.

In brief, that means Huawei will only be able to use the open source version of Android.

It will also need to manually access any updates or software patches from Android Open Source Project, and also distribute the updates to users itself, a source told AFP.

In a statement, Huawei said it would “continue to provide security updates and after-sales services” to all existing smartphones and tablets globally, including those not yet sold.

Meanwhile, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that is was monitoring the situation.

‘Legal weapons’

“At the same time, the Chinese side supports Chinese enterprises in taking up legal weapons and defending their legitimate rights,” Lu Kang, a spokesman for the ministry, said a media briefing on Monday.

Huawei is recognized as a global leader in 5G technology, or superfast broadband, and is the most advanced and the cheapest infrastructure provider in the world.

But the Chinese firm remains dependent on foreign suppliers. It buys about US$67 billion worth of components each year, including around $11 billion from US suppliers.

US chipmakers including Intel, Qualcomm and Broadcom have informed workers that they will stop supplying Huawei until further notice, Bloomberg reported on Monday, citing sources.

“[Huawei] is heavily dependent on US semiconductor products and would be seriously crippled without a supply of key US components,” Ryan Koontz, a Rosenblatt Securities analyst, said.

“[The ban] may cause China to delay its 5G network build until the ban is lifted, having an impact on many global component suppliers,” he added.

Limited impact

On Saturday, Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei pointed out that Huawei had “not done anything which violates the law,” adding that the US crackdown would have a limited impact.

“Huawei has made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry,” a group spokesperson said on Monday.

“We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally,” the spokesperson added.

Again, this prompted more questions than answers in the ongoing Huawei affair.

– with reporting from AFP