China’s biggest search engine Baidu and two private equity firms have invested US$11.5 million in a public transport advertising network and provider of free Wi-fi on buses and metro systems in China. The funds will go towards a unit of VisionChina Media that specialises in the research, development and operation of mass transit Wi-Fi networks and the provision of mobile Internet value-added services in China, said Nasdaq-listed Baidu. The investment will also see Baidu and VisionChina jointly develop and monetise mobile app distribution and other mobile passenger services powered by Baidu Map, it said. Baidu has been quickly ramping up its mobile e-commerce and online-to-offline offerings. The latest deal is expected to help it reach more users and channel them to its wide array of online services, including food deliveries and group-buying shopping deals. The investment was made by one of the search engine’s units as well as Guangdong Zhongke Baiyun New Industry Venture Investment and Dongguan Zhongke Zhongguang Venture Investment. Both private equity firms are based in southern Guangdong province. “We’re excited about the opportunity to work with VisionChina Media to truly address the needs of urban commuters and realise the significant long-term value of VisionChina’s public transit Wi-fi network,” said Peter Fang, senior director of corporate development at Baidu. VisionChina has secured exclusive concession rights for Wi-fi services in 19 Chinese cities covering approximately 35,000 buses, it said. About 15,000 of the buses offer free internet access, which is used by passengers more than 3 million times a day. The company also expects the funding will help it to attract more concession rights and further expand its Wi-fi network infrastructure. VisionChina intends to serve as the first mobile internet entry point in China's public transit system, according to its chief executive Li Limin. It plans to make more value-added services available for those who use its Wi-fi, including news, videos, location-based services and third-party app store access.