Google has signed a deal to provide mobile search services for China's biggest mobile phone operator, China Mobile, the company announced Thursday.
Google will initially provide the search service for China Mobile's Monternet WAP (Wireless Access Protocol) portal, where subscribers can search for news, videos and other content from their mobile phone. That service has been in testing since December and should go live early this year, said D-J Collins, a Google spokesman in Europe.
The companies are also exploring other ways to combine their services, although Google won't say yet what they are. A likely candidate is for Google to provide the default search engine that China Mobile subscribers use to search the Web at large, as opposed to just its WAP portal. The company provides a similar service for T-Mobile International.
While still in its early stages, mobile Web search is seen as an important market because of the increasing capabilities of mobile phones and their widespread use. The deal in China is good news for Google, which once led the country's Internet search market but now trails far behind local search provider Baidu.com Inc.
"Twice as many people in the world own a mobile phone as own a fixed-line PC, and if people want to search for information on a handheld device then that's important to us," Collins said.
Google has signed similar deals with other mobile operators but China Mobile is its biggest catch. The operator had 287 million subscribers at the end of September and was on track to reach 300 million by the end of last year.
Search rivals Microsoft and Yahoo offer similar services and have also been signing deals with operators.
Google wouldn't disclose specific terms of the deal, and China Mobile couldn't be reached for comment Thursday. The operator said last May that it was in talks with Google over a possible partnership.