Middle East will be a battlefield as China's search engine Baidu takes on Google

China's search giant already has Microsoft on side in its desire to challenge Google's supremacy as non-English-speaking markets are set to grow rapidly.
Baidu is reportedly planning to follow expansion into Japan with rapid offensives planned for other regions.
Baidu is reportedly planning to follow expansion into Japan with rapid offensives planned for other regions.

The Chinese search giant Baidu is starting to target foreign markets such as the Middle East as it declares global war on Google.

Baidu is setting up a multi-language platform designed to enable it to push into new markets overseas. According to Chinese industry sources, Baidu plans to follow expansion into Japan with rapid offensives planned for other regions.

Some of the fiercest battles between Baidu and Google are expected to be fought outside their massive home markets in areas such as the Middle East.

Arab regions are set to become a battleground for the search giants as Arabic is reported to be the fastest-growing language on the Web, with almost double the speed of internet adoption experienced by Chinese speakers over the past decade. Over 10 years, Arabic internet adoption is reported to have seen growth of 2,500 per cent, whereas China's growth is estimated at 1,300 per cent.

Baidu has formed a search engine partnership with the US software giant Microsoft and earlier this year was also reported to be in talks with Facebook, following a meeting between the Baidu chief executive Robin Liand the Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The Microsoft deal already gives Baidu potential access to the English-speaking market. English-language inquiries made to Baidu will be directed to Microsoft's Bing search engine. While the deal has been reported in the West as a route for Microsoft to start to penetrate new markets such as China, the move is calculated to help Baidu take on Google.

Google is already barred from China, the world's biggest potential market, where Baidu has a 75 per cent market share.

China already has about 500 million internet users, about double that in the US. This still represents only about a third of the country's potential market. The US, which used to be home to half the world's internet users, now represents just 12 per cent.

According to the research company the Data Center of China Internet, there will be 551 million internet users in the country by the end of the year. China's internet advertising market is predicted to grow by 40 per cent a year for the next four years.

By teaming up with Google's enemies to plan the next phase of its global expansion, Baidu is challenging Google for global dominance of the search-engine market. Earlier this year, Baidu announced to a Beijing technology conference that much of its growth would come from overseas expansion, confounding some analysts' belief that Baidu would be happy to concentrate on its home market.

New non-English-speaking markets are now set to grow rapidly at a time when the English-speaking market is close to reaching saturation. The foreign-language search market offers unrivalled opportunities for growth.

Mobile phone users in developing markets, many of whom do not yet own an internet-enabled smartphone, also represents a vast untapped market for internet search.

According to the World Mobile Congress, the number of mobile phone accounts globally totalled about 5 billion last year, representing about three-quarters of the world's population. However, only about a third of the world's population is believed to be connected to the internet.

Baidu is now about to target not only its huge potential domestic mobile internet market but also the world's growing mobile phone market. Although Google has already become the default search engine for Web surfers in developed markets, Baidu is well-positioned to capture some of the hundreds of millions of mobileusers who will soon upgrade their phones to connect to the internet.

The reported talks with Facebook are an indication of the kind of services and applications Baidu intends to offer its smartphone customers. While Google paved the way with simple internet search, many mobile internet users now use social-networking sites such as Facebook to access internet services including search. By teaming up with leading websites such as Facebook, Baidu can potentially attract large numbers of users outside its domestic markets.

The Microsoft deal also brings Baidu closer to the leading mobile phonemaker Nokia, which already has an excellent reputation for selling low-cost mobile phones in emerging markets.

But Google has already staked a huge claim on the smartphone market as about half the world's smartphones are now powered by Google's Android operating system. Given the strength of the Google brand, the Silicon Valley search giant is seen to be well ahead of rivals in the new smartphone market.

However, Baidu's ally Microsoft is determined not to relinquish its leadership in consumer software and is determined its operating systems will survive the shift from desktop to handheld computing. According to some Silicon Valley industry observers, Microsoft's next Windows Phone update will be used to power low-priced Nokia phones.

With Baidu now drawing battle lines across the globe and forming close partnerships with leading western technology companies, Google would be unwise to underestimate the strength of its new Chinese rival in the new markets of the multilingual internet.

business@thenational.ae

Published: August 12, 2011 04:00 AM

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