By Wang Xing and Tuo Yannan
BEIJING, China - Companies including Google and Microsoft have more time to bring their online mapping services in line with Chinese regulations after the country's top industry regulator has extended the license application deadline.
In an e-mail reply to China Daily, the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping said it will launch a crackdown next year against illegal online mapping services in China.
"We will give warnings to service providers that fail to get a license by March 31 and will take administrative actions against them after July 1," the bureau said.
That means companies such as Google and Microsoft, which the bureau said have not yet applied for a license, will have an additional six months for their license applications, which the bureau said earlier had to be done by the end of this year.
The bureau introduced a regulation in May requiring companies operating online mapping services in China to apply for a license from the bureau to continue business, citing national security.
That put Google and Microsoft in uncertain positions as their online mapping services have attracted millions of Chinese users.
Ji Chendong, an analyst with research firm Frost & Sullivan, said that China has entered its "golden phase" for online map services and next year's sales revenue will exceed 2.5 billion yuan ($376 million) with 150 million users.
In September, the bureau gave licenses to 31 companies including Nokia, Baidu, Alibaba, Sina and Tencent. The bureau said Google and Microsoft have not yet applied for licenses.
Marsha Wang, spokeswoman for Google China, refused to comment on the latest announcement by the bureau, noting only that "we are examining the regulations to understand their impact on our map products in China".
Anderson Liu, general manager of MSN China, Microsoft's Chinese joint venture that runs the company's online businesses including Hotmail and the Bing search engine, told China Daily earlier this month that "Microsoft is in the process of applying for a license".
It is unclear whether the bureau's decision to extend the deadline has anything to do with an official online mapping service it launched last month.
Since then, the bureau has been under great pressure as the service, called Map World, has been criticized for using the same satellite images as Google Maps.
The bureau told China Daily that Map World will be free to the public, like Google Maps are. But it will charge fees for corporate users once the service is put into commercial use.
"We plan to make the service a well-known brand in China," the bureau said.
Ren Yanghui, an analyst from Analysys International, said the bureau launched its online map to set an example for China's online map providers.
Baidu, DDMap and Google are the major online map providers in China, which together account for more than half of the market share, the Beijing-based research firm said.
"After Google announced it may withdraw from the Chinese market, Baidu's online maps took a lot of market share from the US company," said Ren.
But he also said that "Google won't give up this market easily" because "their future business relies on the wireless service market".