Nokia sees growth in use of mobile app for rural China

Nokia is also gearing up to provide more location-based services in China

Nokia, China's biggest handset vendor, reported on Wednesday that a mobile app aimed at helping rural Chinese users has become the company's fastest-growing service in the country.

Nokia launched Ovi Life Tools in China last May. The tools are a set of informational services meant for rural markets in developing countries. With the app, information can be found on a variety of topics including the weather, market prices and pregnancy care. SMS is used to deliver the information, with the service costing cost from US$0.75 to $1.20 a month depending which packages are subscribed to.

While Nokia declined to reveal the number of users of the app in China, Ovi Life Tools is growing to become one of its "most successful services" in the country, said Phil Kemp, the company's head for the services sector in Greater China.

Ovi Life Tools allows mobile phone users who use their handset only for phone calls to experience receiving Internet-based content for the first time, Kemp said in an interview on the sidelines of the Global Mobile Internet Conference in Beijing.

"It's bringing people up to the learning curve," he said.

China has the world's largest mobile phone user population, at 889 million. But Internet access is still limited in many parts of the country. Only 457 million people access the Web, with rural Internet users at 125 million, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Nokia hopes to connect millions of other Chinese to the Web through simple mobile apps like Ovi Life Tools. Another app is Nokia's Ovi browser, which the company is creating by partnering with Chinese Internet firm Tencent.

The browser is designed to connect to the Web via second generation telecommunication networks, which are slower, but in use by most mobile phone users in China. "We can deliver optimized content for the small screen size." he said.

Along with China's rural market, Nokia is also gearing up to tap into the location-based service opportunities growing in the country, Kemp said. The company is doing so by building up its Ovi mobile maps product through partnerships with local Chinese companies.

The partnerships are necessary to make Nokia's products appeal to local users. Earlier this year, Nokia announced it had made agreements with Chinese companies including Tencent and Sina to support Ovi Maps through their social networking platforms. Users with Sina and Tencent can now share their locations and provide recommendations on restaurants or shops through Ovi Maps and to Nokia handsets.

Nokia plans to announce other partnerships in China to back its Ovi Maps platform in the future, Kemp said. The company is also encouraging Chinese developers to build location-based apps for Ovi Maps.

"I think China presents some unique opportunities because of the fact China is dominated by local players," Kemp said."On the one hand that's a threat for some foreign companies coming into China. But because Nokia has been here for 26 years we see some opportunities to leverage our relationships."

Nokia is the first foreign company to have received a state license to operate online maps in the country. Microsoft has said it has already applied for the license and is waiting to hear back from authorities, while Google has said it is in talks with the Chinese government about keeping its mapping service online in the country.

Nokia has a 29.6 percent share of China's mobile phone market, according to Beijing-based research firm Analysys International.

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Michael Kan

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