China's Alibaba to offer mobile phone services in June

Alibaba bagged a mobile virtual network operators license in December

Alibaba's Tmall and Taobao sites already sell everything from clothes and furniture to car tires and medicines. But soon they'll also be offering 3G data and voice call plans as well, the Chinese e-commerce giant said Thursday.

User registration for mobile phone numbers will begin in May.

Alibaba is among the Chinese companies that received a mobile virtual network operators license back in December. This allows them to resell wireless services from the nation's state-controlled mobile carriers China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom.

It won't be hard for the Alibaba to find customers. Taobao and Tmall are two of China's largest online retail sites. In addition, the company is aggressively expanding into mobile services, developing its own operating system for smartphones, along with a mobile chatting app called Laiwang.

As smartphones become the number one way Chinese go online, local tech companies are trying to corner a part of the mobile Internet market. In Alibaba's case, the company has been on a spending spree, buying a stake in Chinese social networking site, Weibo.com, and moving to acquire the country's largest online mapping provider.

Offering data and voice services could help Alibaba attract more users to its e-commerce services. As China only has three mobile carriers, there's plenty of room for MVNOs to grow, according to analysts. But Alibaba won't be the only e-commerce company offering mobile phone services.

JD.com, another major online retailer in China, has also received a MVNO license. The company plans to offer its telecom services in the second quarter of this year.

JD.com has the second largest business-to-consumer retail site behind Tmall.com, according to research firm Analysys International. The company is set to grow even faster after Chinese Internet giant Tencent bought a 15 percent stake in it.

As part of the deal, JD.com will take over two of Tencent's online retail businesses. It will also gain access to Tencent's WeChat app, a mobile messaging app with 300 million users.

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Michael Kan

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