Baidu Agrees To Buy Chinese Android App Distributor 91 Wireless For $1.9B

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Here’s a sign of how valuable China’s biggest alternative app stores have become.

The country’s leading search engine, Baidu, just signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire 91 Wireless for $1.9 billion from NetDragon.

91 Wireless runs some of the country’s biggest smartphone app distribution platforms through 91 Assistant and HiMarket. An independent research firm iResearch put the company as the top third-party distribution platform in China by active users and accumulated downloads.

Because Google Play isn’t available in China and the Android platform has quickly overtaken iOS there in the last two years, independent Android app stores like Qihoo 360’s app store and Wandoujia have flourished. 91 Wireless says 10 billion apps have been downloaded to date through its marketplaces. Baidu has its own app store as well, but this is a way for them to assume more market share.

The 91 Wireless subsidiary, which started back in 2007, had grown so quickly that its owner, NetDragon, was considering spinning the unit off for an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. If this deal goes through, that IPO will get cancelled. NetDragon will receive $1.09 billion from the deal, given its 57 percent share. Baidu says it will buy the remaining shares from minority shareholders on similar terms.