BEIJING (Reuters) - Artificial intelligence (AI) firm iFlytek on Wednesday entered a brewing price war between some of China's biggest tech companies, after it made some versions of its "Spark" large-language model (LLM) free or five times cheaper than similar products from competitors.

The move comes a day after Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Baidu slashed prices of their LLMs used to power generative AI products, and a week after Bytedance made a similar move.

iFlytek last September launched a ChatGPT-like product, "Spark", which the company claimed the following month surpassed ChatGPT 3.5 in Chinese language tasks, while displaying comparable performance in English.

Hefei-based iFlytek, best known for its voice recognition technology, said Spark Lite would be free for the public to use while Spark Pro/Max would cost only 0.21 yuan, or less than 3 cents, per 10,000 tokens, or units of data processed by the LLM.

This new pricing is five times cheaper than the 1.2 yuan per 10,000 tokens charged by Baidu's Ernie 4.0 and Alibaba's Tongyi Qwen-Max.

One token is equivalent to 1.5 Chinese characters in Spark, meaning 10 tokens for the price of 2.1 yuan ($0.29) was enough for Spark Max to generate all of Yu Hua's popular novel "To Live", according to a statement published on iFlytek's official WeChat account.

State-owned China Mobile is iFlytek's largest shareholder with a 10% stake.

($1 = 7.2393 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

By Eduardo Baptista