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Alibaba will soon be a mobile telco, close to launching Ali Telecom in coming weeks

Alibaba launches Ali Telecom

Before Alibaba’s long-awaited IPO hits Wall Street later this summer, the ecommerce giant will have its finger in one new pie – it’s going to be a mobile telco operator in China. Alibaba has rolled out a promotional page today detailing its mobile pricing plans, which cover 3G, SMS, and voice calls. The service will be called Ali Telecom in English, and ‘Ali Tongxin’ in Chinese.

This comes six months after China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) unveiled plans to allow local companies to become virtual telecoms that can resell services from China’s three main operators. It’s the biggest ever shake-up in China’s telecoms market. Some of Alibaba’s closest rivals, such as JD (NASDAQ:JD) and Suning (SHE:002024) are also prepping their own virtual telco launches this summer. (Updated: Removed Tencent’s name).

An Alibaba representative says that Ali Telecom is on course to launch in the coming weeks, but there’s still no fixed date. It will cover 29 cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and cities in Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Jiangsu provinces. At launch, subscribers can only get prepaid SIMs and will have to add credit to their SIMs online. It’s not clear if on-contract phones will be offered at a later date.

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Ali Telecom appears to be reselling airwaves from all three of China’s main telcos, as the new network covers WCDMA, TD-SCDMA, and CDMA2000 for 3G and calls.

Ali Telecom’s new promo page reveals that its data packages are slightly cheaper than the big three telcos’ offerings, but they don’t appear to be massively disruptive in terms of pricing. The real differentiation will be revealed upon launch when the new networks roll out special offers that tie into their various web services.

As for Alibaba’s IPO, the latest rumor from Bloomberg is that the company is aiming at a very auspicious date – August 8. The day – 8/8 – is supposedly a good pick because the number eight is considered lucky in Chinese culture.

Editing by Paul Bischoff

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