Baidu Leads $11.5M Investment In Startup That Provides WiFi For China’s Commuters

Baidu is pushing into the public WiFi space, after the Chinese internet giant — responsible for the country’s most popular search and maps services — led an $11.5 million investment in Qianhai Mobile, a company that gets China’s commuters online.

Qianhai Mobile, which is an affiliate of NASDAQ-listed media firm ChinaVision, provides wireless internet access on a range of commuter routes, including bus services across 18 cities in China. That deal covers around 35,000 buses in major cities that include Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

The company, which claims to reach over 7.5 million Chinese commuters via its ‘VIFI’ service, revealed that private investors Guangdong Zhongke Baiyun New Industry Venture and Dongguan Zhongke Zhongguang Venture also participated in the round. The fresh capital, it said, will be put to use expanding its infrastructure and securing more deals and deployments.

Baidu’s involvement in the deal is strategic — and pretty interesting. The Chinese firm said it will work with Qianhai Mobile to “jointly develop and monetize mobile app distribution and other mobile passenger services powered by Baidu Map.”

Clearly, commuter WiFi services have vast potential. They offer more reliable (and potentially faster) internet access to millions while they commute to work and seek to fill dead time. That lends such services to becoming hubs for others.

Likewise, map services like Baidu’s are inherently at their most useful when a person is in transit. Thus, combining these two could create some interesting synergies and the potential to pipe in other relevant services — for example e-commerce deals, location-based promotions and other initiatives. The golden rule, of course, is to avoid abusing the position and ensure that each integration provides ‘value’ to users.

“We are very impressed with VisionChina Media’s many years of experience operating the leading public transit-based media platform in China, and the Company’s ongoing transition to an Internet-focused business. We are excited about the opportunity to work with VisionChina Media to truly address the needs of urban commuters and realize the significant long-term value of the Company’s public transit Wi-Fi network,” Baidu’s Peter Fang said in a canned comment.

For those who ask, yes, the picture featured at the top is a stab at humor, not an actual Qianhai Mobile rollout. Come on, it’s Friday 😉 !