Chinese search engine Baidu Inc said yesterday that it has signed a partnership with China Unicom to provide wireless search for the carrier's 3G mobile subscribers, in a move to fend off Google Inc's increasing presence in the world's largest mobile population.
Baidu will preinstall its services, including text, image, MP3 and news search, in China Unicom's 3G mobile phones, according to the agreement. It will also provide search services for mobile Internet websites run by the carrier, which plans to launch the iPhone in China this month.
"We hope that Baidu's cooperation with major telecom providers in China will accelerate the development of 3G services and allow us to provide the rapidly growing population of mobile search users better access to information," said Ren Xuyang, Baidu's vice-president, in a statement yesterday.
But a China Unicom spokesman said the deal with Baidu was not exclusive. He said Google's services preinstalled in the iPhone would not be impacted by the partnership.
As China launched its 3G service, which enables cell phone users to surf the Internet via mobile phones, mobile search has become one of the most promising markets for search engines to expand their service beyond personal computers.
Google has been striving to promote its mobile search service such as Google Maps to Chinese mobile phone users in recent years.
In 2007, the company announced a partnership with China Mobile to provide mobile search for the country's largest cell phone carrier. It also said last week that it plans to launch Chinese-language voice search service to Chinese smart-phone users in the next several weeks.
According to figures from domestic research firm Analysys International, Google is still lagging behind market leader Baidu, which takes over 60 percent of the search market share. But in China's mobile search market, Google's share reached 26.6 percent in the second quarter of this year, higher than the 26 percent that Baidu clinched.
In May, Baidu reached a deal to provide search service in a value-added service platform run by China Telecom. The company also announced last month it would launch mobile search services in Japan, where the 3G market is more mature.
Compared to its deal with China Telecom, which only had 41.73 million mobile phone users by July, Baidu's partnership with China Unicom seems to be more likely to help the search engine to ride China's 3G market boom.
China Unicom is the country's second largest cell phone operator, with mobile users reaching 141 million by July. Although the number is not comparable to the 450-million cell phone users of China Mobile, the company is believed to be getting wider support from mobile phone vendors including Nokia, which dominates about 35 percent of China's handset market.
Zhou Liqian, an analyst from Everbright Securities, said in an earlier research note that China Unicom might take up over half of China's 3G market by 2011.
According to CNNIC, China's Internet users totaled 338 million by the end of June, of which mobile Internet users increased 32.1 percent to 155 million.