Corporate China

Weibo: Execs wax nostalgic, Xiaomi eyes VNO license

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 11:32am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 July, 2014, 11:33am

Chinese tech executives were waxing nostalgic on their microblogs this past week, reflecting a broader seasonal business slowdown as we head into the quiet summer months when many people go on vacation. The flurry of memories from top executives at smartphone maker Xiaomi, security software maker Cheeetah Mobile (NYSE: CMCM) and e-commerce giant (Nasdaq: JD) came as a nice break from the usual promotional hype in the microblogging realm, and shows that even executives need to take a break periodically from their usual self-promotion.

While the airwaves were mostly empty of the usual hype, another Xiaomi executive was still at work with his hints that the company has applied for a virtual network operator (VNO) license to offer telecoms services. That move doesn't come as a huge surprise, since a wide range of Chinese tech firms have also applied for such licenses, which allow them to offer mobile service under their own brand names to attract new users for their core products.

The nostalgia filling the microblogging realm ran the range from 1990s memories, to developments just last year. Not surprisingly, many such memories often center on years when life was much simpler for most Chinese, when the Internet and gadgets like mobile phones would have been foreign words to most people.

The wave of memories also underscores just how young many of China's top Internet executives are, since many of their earliest memories only go back to the 1990s -- a period that doesn't seem all that long ago. Xiaomi's CEO and hypemaster Lei Jun led the nostalgia binge with recollections of his long career in the tech sector, dating back to his roots at early software leader Kingsoft (3888.HK).

His trip down memory lane was centered on a 1998 photo of himself with several others, including Lenovo (0992.HK) founder Liu Chuanzhi and current CEO Yang Yuanqing, inspecting some wi-fi products. Another of his posts includes a photo from Kingsoft's milestone 2007 IPO in Hong Kong, which he reveals was preceded by four failed attempts to take the company public.  

While Lei's sentimental posts had overtones of his usual self-promotion, the messages coming from Fu Sheng, CEO of recently listed Cheetah Mobile, were a bit simpler and related to a 15 year college reunion he recently attended. Fu's posts were mostly sentimental, recalling simple pleasures like watching the sunrise and how full of hope everyone was back in 1999. vice president Xu Lei's trip down memory lane was the most recent of the group, dating back to just last year when the company embarked on a big campaign to lure new online shoppers in the China's more rural areas. The campaign saw the company fan out to 145 cities and towns across China, plastering walls with posters urging cost-conscious residents to save money by shopping on  

All the nostalgia aside, it wouldn't be proper to go a week without at least a little online promotion, which in this case came from Zhong Yufei, an executive in Xiaomi's new media division. Chinese media have been buzzing these past few weeks about Xiaomi's newest fourth-generation smartphone, which is expected to be formally unveiled later this summer.

Zhong doesn't comment directly on the matter, but re-posts another message revealing that Xiaomi has delayed the formal announcement of its new phone as it awaits receipt of a VNO license that will let it offer its own brand of mobile service. China's telecoms regulator has been awarding such licenses since the end of last year, allowing private companies to offer mobile service under their own brand names by leasing network capacity from the nation's three big telcos.

Many of China's top e-commerce firms have already received VNO licenses and launched service, including Alibaba, and Suning (Shenzhen: 002024). Xiaomi looks poised to join that group soon, and I'm sure we'll hear plenty about its new brand of mobile service when it formally unveils its fourth generation phone sometime in the weeks ahead.

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