Baidu, China's biggest internet search services provider, is jump-starting its international expansion by delivering a new mobile browser this year for fast-growing smartphone-user markets in Africa and the Middle East.
The Beijing-based company announced yesterday it had signed an exclusive partnership with France Telecom to develop a co-branded mobile browser for the smartphone subscribers of its Orange mobile network in Africa and the Middle East.
It is Baidu's first international network operator deal and is designed to make its mobile internet search services widely available to emerging markets. Commercial terms of the alliance were not given.
"Baidu's success has been built on developing technologies, products and services appropriate for China, the world's largest emerging market," said Hu Yong, the general manager of Baidu's international business unit. "We're now bringing that experience to bear in other markets now enjoying rapid growth."
A JP Morgan report forecast that Baidu "can capture additional earnings from higher total search queries" this year. It expected "mobile search to generate incremental traffic and revenue" for the company.
The Arabic and English-language versions of the new Baidu-Orange browser are available for download by subscribers of Mobinil, which is the France Telecom-owned mobile service in Egypt. A French version of the browser is under development.
Designed with a simple interface and improved data-compression capabilities, the browser offers one-click access to online applications and internet services unique to Baidu and Orange. It also gives easy access to Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia.
Within this year, the browser will come pre-installed on all smartphones running Google's Android operating system that are sold by Orange to subscribers across Africa.
"The appetite for mobile internet services is very strong in Africa," said Marc Rennard, the senior executive vice-president at Orange in Africa and the Middle East.
"Partnering with innovative companies like Baidu provide unique solutions that give our customers affordable access to all the services they desire, without compromising on features or ease of use."
Orange has nearly 80 million mobile subscribers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. France Telecom operates in 33 countries, with 227 million fixed-line and mobile customers at the end of September last year.
Baidu, which is listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market in the United States, has forecast its revenue in the quarter to December to be between 6.15 billion yuan (HK$7.66 billion) and 6.34 billion yuan, which represents a 37.6 to 41.8 per cent year-on-year rise.