Following the decision by US regulators to impose a seven year ban on exports to ZTE, the phone maker has been uncovered a potential major problem. The proposed ban may also include software licensing that could bar ZTE from installing Android OS onto phones produced that comply with hardware export restrictions.

Last year ZTE shipped 46.4 million smartphones ranking seventh globally out of Android-based manufacturers and commanding around 12 percent of the US market. Alphabet and ZTE are currently in discussions to determine what course of action is possible if Google is legally prevented from licensing its software.

The official document from the US Department of Commerce states that ZTE may not "participate in any way in any transaction involving any commodity, software or technology," which clearly would include Android under the proposed order. As much of a problem as it will be for ZTE, Google is not likely thrilled to potentially be losing a device manufacturer, even if in the overall scope of things it's not a major problem for them.

Should the ban outright prevent Android OS from being used, a switch to Samsung's Tizen mobile operating system is possible given the extremely limited alternative options that are not based on Android. Microsoft's discontinuation of Windows Phone, BlackBerry's decision to use Android, and Apple's exclusivity of iOS to their own devices would put ZTE in a tight spot.

One of the problems with merely picking a different operating system is having to build up an array of basic apps to provide a similar user experience to Android's vast ecosystem. In the past, many Chinese manufacturers have just relied on Google's own suite of apps instead of investing their own time and money to build custom versions.

Image Credit: Tizen phone by Ron Amadeo