Chinese authorities plan to give Nokia a license to provide online mapping services in China, making it the first foreign firm to get such approval.
The announcement may open doors for other foreign applicants such as Google and Microsoft, which have also reportedly applied for such a license.
China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping said it plans to approve the Finnish cellphone maker’s application to run its Ovi Map service in China, according to a statement on the bureau’s website Tuesday.
To avoid State secrets being disclosed and uncertified maps published online, the bureau launched a regulation in May requiring all companies providing online maps and location services in China to apply for approval.
Since last month, the bureau disclosed a series of initial approvals that include at least 53 domestic firms such as Baidu, Alibaba, Sina and Tencent. But none of the foreign applications had been approved.
It is unclear if the bureau will also approve Google’s application. The US search engine had its Internet Content Provider license renewed by the Chinese government last weekend.
That, industry experts said, has significantly increased the possibility of it obtaining approval from the bureau.
“Getting its Internet Content Provider license renewed is a prerequisite for Google to get the license from the bureau,” said Ren Yanghui, an analyst from research firm Analysys International.
He said Google may need to make some adjustments in its service such as blurring certain details or tweaking information available on its online maps.
But the “biggest obstacle” will still be its relationship with the Chinese government, according to Ren.
Bureau officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. But the government organization told China Daily on Monday in an e-mail that applications from foreign firms will be examined under China’s Surveying and Mapping Law, which require foreign applicants to also get the nod from the Chinese armed forces department as well as the State Council.
Qualified online map service providers are also required to keep servers storing map data inside the country and must have no record of information leakage in any form in the past three years, according to the latest regulation from the State Bureau.
“I think there is still a strong chance Google will get its license approved from the bureau as long as the company follows the Chinese laws and regulations,” said Guan Dai, analyst from research firm In-Stat China.
She said the Chinese government’s recent decision to renew Google’s Internet Content Provider license is a good sign.
According to figures from Analysys International, the total revenue of China’s online mapping market rose from 245 million yuan in 2008 to 330 million yuan last year. Baidu, DDMap and Google are the major online map providers in China, which altogether account for more than half of the market share, the firm said.