As the eye-popping stats and growth rates in their March quarter earnings reports make clear, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA) and Tencent Holdings Ltd. (TCEHY) have become Chinese tech institutions in much the same way that Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) have become in the U.S. And just as Alphabet and Amazon's ambitions have gradually expanded to cover things such as self-driving cars, drones, anti-aging drugs and grocery stores, Alibaba and Tencent's reach now extends into areas such as shopping malls, movie studios and logistics networks.
That provides some context to a Reuters report that Alibaba and Tencent will be taking part in a roughly $10 billion funding round for Big 3 Chinese carrier China Unicom Limited (CHU) . The investments could yield some obvious and less-obvious benefits for companies with giant Chinese mobile app footprints, such as Alibaba and Tencent.
Sources tell Reuters that Alibaba and Tencent would be the lead investors in China Unicom's funding round, which is part of a broader effort by Beijing to inject private capital into state-controlled companies. Search giant Baidu Inc. (BIDU) is said to have pulled out of investment talks, and a deal is reportedly likely to be finalized by this summer.
Taking sizable stakes in Unicom, which currently has a $36 billion market cap, could pave the way for Alibaba and Tencent to have their apps pre-installed on the Android phones Unicom sells. For Alibaba, possibilities include its Taobao and Tmall shopping apps, UCWeb mobile browser, Youku Tudou unit's video apps, AutoNavi mapping app, Wandoujia app store and Ant Financial's Alipay payments app. For Tencent, they include its WeChat mobile messaging app (nearly ubiquitous in China), myApp app store, the Tencent Video app and apps for its QQ and Qzone social platforms.
It's also possible that Tencent could have some of its mobile games pre-installed on phones. App pre-install deals with Chinese carriers and smartphone OEMs certainly aren't anything new. In 2015, Alibaba teamed with Unicom rival China Telecom Corp. (CHA) to offer low-end phones in small towns and rural regions that featured either the Taobao app or Alibaba's Android-based YunOS operating system.