Softbank Aims to Be World's Top Mobile Internet Company

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Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son has set a goal to become the world's largest mobile Internet company, he said Saturday in a speech aimed at inspiring owners of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in China.

Calling Softbank "the Internet version of Berkshire Hathaway," referring to the company of the world's richest man, Warren Buffett, Son sees the mobile Internet as the future of connected communications. He cited Japan's 80 percent penetration rate for 3G (third generation telephony). "In the past, we learned from the U.S...for 3G, Japan is bringing the new technology. I think this will happen in the rest of the world," he said. He also noted that currently China and India, which are among the world's top five mobile markets, have no 3G services, and therefore the potential for growth is huge.

Without making any announcements, Son made it clear that he will continue to look for investment opportunities in China. "In the future, if you do not become number one in China, you will not be the number one in the world." Son has so far found success here with his investment in Alibaba, which went public late last year, and Softbank holds a 14 percent stake in social networking site Xiaonei, with an option to increase its holdings to as much as 40 percent.

Softbank is already the largest Internet company in Asia by market capitalization (currently 2.1 trillion yen or US$19.53 billion). It earned net profit of about $240 million for its 2007 fiscal year, about 60 percent of which came from mobile communications, Son said.

He spoke at the Second APEC Business Advisory Council SME Summit in Hangzhou, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma's hometown.

Softbank invested US$20 million in Alibaba in 2000 as part of a $25 million round. Son serves on Alibaba's board, and Softbank and the Chinese company created Alibaba Japan earlier this year as a $20 million joint venture.

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