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UCWeb to accelerate international expansion after Alibaba merger

Alibaba announced it had acquired UCWeb, a mobile browser company in China, on Wednesday

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After merging with China's Alibaba Group, local mobile browser developer UCWeb is seeking to accelerate its international expansion, and double its user base to 1 billion over the next three to five years.

"We can now more boldly invest in our international business," said Yu Yongfu, head of the recently acquired browser business, on Thursday. Previously CEO of UCWeb, he is now president of Alibaba's UC mobile business group, following Alibaba's acquisition of the company on Wednesday.

Prior to the acquisition, UCWeb had been making headway in markets outside of China, including India, Indonesia, Russian and the U.S. The company's UC Browser, launched in 2004, is available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone, and Nokia's Symbian OS, among others.

By merging with Alibaba, UCWeb executives believed the deal could help it grow internationally, a goal the company has had since its founding, Yu said in an interview with journalists.

Although Alibaba is not as well-known in the U.S., the company is an e-commerce giant in China, where it runs the two largest online retail sites. It has also been expanding globally, with investments in the U.S., and e-commerce sites that are selling to consumers across the world.

Since 2009, Alibaba had been a strategic investor in UCWeb, eventually buying a 66 percent stake in the browser company. Two month's ago Alibaba's founder and chairman Jack Ma spoke with Yu and laid out a vision to marry the strengths of both Alibaba and UCWeb into one company, Yu said.

"The Alibaba team is very strong in e-commerce, but in non-e-commerce areas, UCWeb has ten years of experience in," he added.

The two companies haven't revealed how much Alibaba is paying for UCWeb. That's partly because Alibaba is paying mainly in its own company stock, along with some cash. The Chinese e-commerce giant is set to make one of the biggest initial public offerings in the U.S. later this year, and possibly raise over US$20 billion, according to analysts.

Both companies, however, claim that the UCWeb acquisition is the biggest in China's Internet industry. "Yesterday I saw some reports that were very optimistic, and said it was worth US$5 billion. I thought 'Wow, our estimates are more conservative,'" Yu added.

Outside of its mobile browser, UCWeb has already partnered with Alibaba to release a mobile search engine in China called Shenma. Launched in April, the product now has a market share of over 20 percent, according to the company.

The merger will give UCWeb more resources, and also access to Alibaba's partnerships with Sina Weibo, a leading social networking site, and Youku Tudou, a top video site in the country, Yu said.

He added that he wants Shenma to reach 200 million users by the end of the year. Yu also hopes it can eventually become a global search engine. Alibaba will continue using the UCWeb brands.



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