Chinese mobile internet users reach 557mn despite aggressive censorship
Tue 3 Feb 2015
According to a new report released by the Chinese government, the country now has 557 million mobile internet users, up from half a billion at the end of 2013.
Following a massive adoption of smartphones from China’s leading providers Apple and Xiaomi over the last year, the country is now the world’s largest market for mobile companies. Apple has recently announced that its Chinese sales had surpassed those in the US, but this is hardly surprising with almost double the potential mobile customers.
Overall internet usage is also on the rise with China now counting around 673 million internet users, nearly equating to half of the entire population. This percentage ranks lower than the US where in 2013 74.4 per cent of homes reported internet use, but there continues to be a clear surge – particularly noted by the Chinese internet population doubling between 2006-2007, and 2001-2002 before then.
The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) report [PDF] also revealed data specific to certain web-based activities. Sectors such as social media, travel apps, and e-commerce were seen to be on the rise. Instant messaging apps, such as WeChat and Whatsapp, showed particular traction with 90.6 per cent of mobile internet users active on messaging services.
Online payments was also a major growth area over 2014 – a positive result for the likes of Alibaba and Tencent, who have both announced plans to launch private banks.
User numbers were down however for microblogging sites, including one of China’s most popular websites Sina Weibo which experienced a drop of 11 per cent.
For China’s leading tech organisations, such as e-commerce group JD.com and search giant Baidu, huge potential still lies in China’s smaller cities and rural regions where roughly a quarter of China’s total internet users reside.
For many international tech groups conquering China is a tough feat with the country’s government laying down the Great Firewall, which includes some of the world’s most onerous restrictions. Sites run by global giants such as Facebook and Google are heavily restricted or blocked all together making it impossible for Chinese users to browse freely.
As of last week Beijing has also blocked VPN services which are used to skirt the Firewall.
“China has the upper hand when it comes to blocking sites and services […] VPNs operating outside of China that want to reach a China user base will have to make a lot of effort to keep their service available,” said CEO of VPN company Psiphon, Karl Kathuria.
Despite this obstruction against foreign business, it seems that the mobile and internet sectors are continuing to enjoy a boom period in China with domestic firms accounting for more than $600bn (approx. £400bn) in total share market values.