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Baidu eyes up UCWeb deal to spur mobile growth

Search giant could swoop for stake in browser firm

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Chinese search giant Baidu is set to take another important step towards expanding its mobile footprint in a tie-up with leading domestic mobile browsing player UCWeb.

The search firm, which now claims around 80 per cent of the huge Chinese market, is holding preliminary talks with company, according to a “person familiar with the matter” who spoke to Dow Jones on Friday.

There’s no further information on what size its possible stake in the browser firm would be, although previous reports swirling about in China claimed that UCWeb turned down a $400m offer from Baidu last year for a 49 per cent stake in its business.

China’s search leader has been gradually expanding its mobile capabilities – a wise move considering the huge mobile internet market in China.

In 2011, it launched the Android-based Yi OS on a Dell-manufactured phone and the firm is currently building a swanky new HQ for its mobile and international operations in Shenzhen.

It also announced plans for another push in the mobile platform market this year with Baidu Cloud, which it hopes will eventually be made available on a range of devices.

However, it is still not a trusted brand in mobile, so a tie-up with the country’s most popular mobile browser firm would make sense.

In fact, Baidu’s own 2012 Q1 Mobile Internet Development Trends Report revealed UCWeb to be the leading browser among Baidu users, with a 28.9 per cent share, although it dropped a worrying 4.3 per cent as rivals QQ and WebKit caught up.

Baidu’s strategy with mobile, like Alibaba and other big name web firms in China, is to use the mobile platform as a way of driving business to its online services.

A tie up with the browser firm could therefore certainly help in this respect, but time will tell what form that partnership will take.

In the meantime, Baidu has been busy with Apple, announcing an ad revenue sharing agreement which will see its search services offered as an option for new Chinese iPhone and iPad buyers. ®

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