We visited Chinese device maker ZTE at this year's Cebit, which was there for the first time in seven years, an age where feature phones were the only species in the handset realm. ZTE has been making in roads in the European market, thanks to its white label devices operators can hawk under their own brand to punters.
ZTE-branded handsets belong to the new kids on the block. All in all, ZTE sold 65 million phones last year. Smartphones accounted to 35 million units, feature phones, 30 million.
Nothing new was on display - after all, Cebit is not CES, MWC or IFA, but something inbetween. However, one announcement will be made today, namely a successor to the current, Intel Atom based ZTE Grand X In. When asked about the cooperation with Intel, ZTE's Wu Sa (pictured, right, with Susanne Baumann) indicated all was smooth sailing.
Unfortunately, not all things are shining bright for handset and network equipment makers from China.
Allegations have been made recently regarding the security of products made by companies such as ZTE and Huawei, including unfounded statements alleging Chineses manufacturers have deep ties with Chinese intelligence services, amounting to the notion of secret backdoors for the sinister world domination of the Yellow Peril.
In the world of evidence-backed facts, no back door has ever been found by inquisitive hackers. German expert Felix Lindner "audited" Huawei routers a while back and uncovered a few security flaws, but no evidence for any backdoor claims. Lindner's findings can be found here. The claims, which are usually made by those who can't tell a programming language from their own bowel movements, border on the ridiculous. If devices made by Chinese makers in the mainland are a threat, then what about all the other products made for US or EU companies in China?
It is not hard to conclude the scare mongering in the political arena is the voice of market protectionism. Of course, such allegations do not help ZTE's business. The "hidden hand", as ZTE's Wu Sa called it, is making itself felt for Chinese manufacturers. Hopefully, anxiety about China will find itself in the dustbin of history, sooner rather than later.
Intel is happy it can show off a long-term partnership with an up-and-coming emerging markets handset maker as a user of its Atom platform. Branching out beyond ARM, Android and Windows is all for the benefit of the consumer and operator. The former has a wider range of handets to choose from, the latter can use Firefox OS handsets to develop own ecosystems for their own benefit. The company's Pre-R&D division will keep an eye on future developments that promise carriers a nice ecosystem, so perhaps there just might be a wee space for Tizen.
ZTE's current line-up aims at the entry- to mid-level smartphone market, but does deliver some bang for your buck, offering largely untouched Android with only a few additions. Consumers shouldn't expect ultra-cool novelties from ZTE at the moment. In the next couple of years, however, it can be expected Chinese companies will evolve in a manner similar to major South Korean makers.