Friday, July 25, 2008

China now counts more Internet users than the US

Even though the government places heavy restrictions on the Internet with censorship and routine crackdowns on cyber dissidents, China has finally surpassed the United States for the most online users in the world.

The China Internet Network Information Center compiled the numbers that indicate China now has 253 million total Web surfers, with the United States coming in at an estimated 223 million users. China has a total population of more than 1.3 billion people, compared to the United States' 301 million.

So while China still has a higher number of overall Internet users, just 19.1 percent of citizens have a connection to the Web, while 71 percent of homes in the US are wired, the Pew Internet and American Life Project recently discovered. The global average of Internet connections is 21 percent.

Still, Internet usage in China is up 56 percent from just one year ago, with online music, instant messaging and news updates the three most popular applications. Furthermore, Chinese users under the age of 30 make up nearly 69 percent of the country's Internet users.

Not surprisingly, natural disasters that ravaged certain parts of China -- for example, the snow storms and the Sichuan province earthquake -- were popular search queries by Chinese users, along with news regarding the summer Olympics, which start in a couple of weeks.

The vast difference in percentage of Internet users may look like a disadvantage to China, but the country's Internet growth will only continue to increase -- and its Internet user lead with it. According to the BDA China research firm, Web usage is expected to grow up to 18 percent per year, and the number of Internet users in the country is estimated to be 490 million by 2012.

This Internet explosion has also enabled a number of Chinese-based Web services to compete against foreign companies. Although domestic Internet services are still growing, foreign corporations, largely from the United States and western Europe, continue to try and get their slice of the pie.

Much to the delight of phone manufacturers, wireless carriers and software companies such as Sun Microsystems, which creates Java software for mobile devices, 29 percent of all Chinese Internet users accessed the Internet through their phones. More than 601 million people worldwide now use their phone to view the Internet.

Mobile browsing is especially popular in developing regions where phone infrastructure exists, but Internet connectivity to homes is sparse. China has at least 500 million mobile phone users, and carriers in the country are beginning to roll out high-speed 3G coverage throughout heavily populated regions.

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