Alipay, the Internet payments service provider of Alibaba Group, announced today it has reached partnership with WiTown, a Chinese business-facing WiFi hotspot solution provider, to offer free products and services to bricks-and-mortar stores to enable Chinese consumers to enjoy free Internet connection over WiFi anywhere.

WiTown provides, by partnering with Chinese carriers such as China Telecom and China Mobile, businesses with a solution with which they are able to push ads to customers, collect and manage data generated from customers, among others. The company also developed a set of APIs for clients to customize their apps. Since 2012, WiTown claimed it had had tens of thousands of clients in some 200 cities across China as of early 2014. That Alipay works with WiTown must have something to do with the fact that the startup was founded by Alibaba alumni.

WiTown Router and Software

WiTown Router and Software

 

Alipay has made it clear that the move is for online-to-offline business expansion. Alipay Wallet, the mobile app that not only allows for mobile payments but also provides a variety of mobile services, from loyalty programs to CRM service for businesses, has been actively expanding to the offline business world since last year.

Users with Alipay Wallet app in their smartphones will receive a notification whenever they enter into an area covered by WiTown solution, and will be able to get connected by clicking on the message. Businesses can join the WiFi coverage plan through two ways, joining the program Alipay will launch later or simply buy routers made by WiTown. The first batch of businesses Alipay is in talks with, restaurants, cinemas, KTV clubs, hotels, attractions, airports and buses, will start offering free WiFi service next month (June).

Alibaba isn’t the first that hopes to have access to all the consumers visiting all kinds of bricks-and-mortar stores and push services to them through WiFi hotspot solution. Chinese tech companies have been implementing a similar strategy targeting at Chinese families through smart WiFi routers.

And they think the strategy must work for offline business world too. Meituan, now the leading group-buying and online booking service in China, has started offering a similar solution to offline stores. As Meituan operates a group-buying app, a movie ticket booking app and a food delivery app, it’s a typical online-to-offline business. Its WiFi program makes perfect sense that it helps merchants on its platform and the company itself to manage and interact with their users.

An accompanying mobile app, Meituan WiFi, has been launched for consumers to connect to the Internet wherever Meituan solution is available. It’s for free and takes only one step to get connected — unlike other existing services with which users have to fill out forms or take some verification steps. The company reportedly has confirmed they are developing a WiFi router for business (report in Chinese).

It is reported that a team under Tencent and Chinese search giant Baidu are working on WiFi routers similar to Meituan’s.

Focus Media, a veteran in digital marketing in China market, began adding WiFi solution to the LCD advertising screens in buildings the company had been operating in mid-2013. By connecting to Focusmedia WiFi, users waiting at an elevator are able to receive the same content, video, audio, game or e-coupon, featured on the ad screen in front of them or redeem coupons or buy goods in those ads, Jiang Nanchun, CEO of Focus Media, said in an interview in last June.

Xiaomi, the rising star in smart device and mobile service, has invested in WiWide, a business WiFi solution provider that was founded as early as in 2007. Telecom service provider Dr. Peng acquired Yihexun last year.

Gaopeng, the joint venture by Groupon and Chinese Internet giant Tencent, has launched YeahWiFi that takes advantage of WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China. By clicking on the “One-click Connection” button in YeahWiFi’s official WeChat account, a user in a store can get his or her smartphone connected if the store has joined YeahWiFi program.

Besides WiTown and WiWide, there are a few similar WiFi solution providers in China, such as JooMe, WifiSong and Shanlink. It is estimated that big tech companies such as Alibaba, Tencent and Meituan will be major players before long, for they have mobile services which are eager to reach consumers at offline stores.