The Chinese mainland still lags behind Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and some other places in Web use despite recent official statistics showing it already has more than 500 million netizens.
The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) reported last month that the mainland’s Internet population had reached 513 million in 2011. However, the rate of growth was low.
In the years to come, the mobile Internet sector is expected to be a major engine in the development of the mainland’s Web industry, the CNNIC predicts.
Fewer than 40 percent people on the mainland were connected to the World Wide Web as of December. However, the number was still up by 4 percentage points compared with 2010’s figure.
Although the penetration rate has beaten the Asian average of 24 percent, it still lags behind Japan, South Korea and Singapore, says the Miniwatts Marketing Group, a global Internet analysis company.
The mainland added 55.8 million new Internet users over the past year, making it the lowest annual increment since 2006.
The half billion users could be a “plateau” for the mainland’s Internet industry, says the CNNIC, a government-supported organization that monitors the mainland’s Internet industry. The number of Internet users had soared in 2008 and 2009 with nearly 90 million new users added each year.
The CNNIC is concerned that the country may find it harder to expand the Internet population in the coming years because almost everyone with the basic education and income required to surf the Web has already become an Internet user.
The number of mainland mobile Internet users reached 356 million in December, up by 17.5 percent year on year, according to the CNNIC. The growth rate was lower than in the previous two years.
“Telecommunication carriers’ strategy to lower traffic charges to get a larger market share contributed to the boom in user numbers in 2009 and 2010,” says the CNNIC. But the carriers’ focus has now shifted to promoting smartphones among mid- and high-income buyers, a move that has “very limited” effect on boosting the number of Internet users, it adds.
Only 36.5 percent Chinese cell phone owners are using their mobile devices to connect to the Internet.
Still, the CNNIC estimates that the next round of fast growth in China’s mobile Internet sector is foreseeable as more major online service providers diversify products for customers with different demands.
Micro blogs witnessed a rapid surge in the number of users in the past year.
The CNNIC says the mainland had 250 million micro blog users in December, four times that of 2010’s 63 million. But some say the figure is too conservative.
Cao Guowei, chief executive officer and president of Sina Corp, an online media company, says Sina Weibo, (the micro blog regarded as China’s Twitter), has more than 250 million account holders.
“There are nearly 100 million tweets on Sina Weibo every day,” he says.
Tencent Holdings, another micro blog operator, claimed in November that its t.qq.com had 310 million users, a number that can easily cover half of the country’s entire Internet population.
The explosive increase in users’ numbers came to an end in the first half of 2011, when the growth rate of new accounts dropped to 28.2 percent half year on half year.
A total of 194 million Internet users are online purchasers, making up 37.8 percent of total Internet users, says the CNNIC, adding that this number has surged by more than 20 percent year on year.
The number in the group-purchasing sector saw a rapid increase despite critics saying group purchasing needs a better profit model to survive. More than 64 million Internet users participated in group-purchasing activities in 2011, covering more than 12 percent of the total Internet population.
The mainland’s group purchasing websites dropped to 3,897 in December from more than 5,000 at the beginning of 2011, says a report released by group-purchasing navigation website tuan800.com.
Although industry integration buffeted the nation’s group-purchasing sector in the first half of 2011, the websites were able to find a more specific market to run their businesses in the second half, says the CNNIC.
“The rapid development in group buying, online payment and online travel booking sectors will enable China’s e-commerce industry to keep growing in 2012,” it says.
In 2011, the mainland’s online shopping market generated 773.5 billion yuan ($122.8 billion) in trading volume, according to a report by Internet research company iResearch Consulting Group on Jan 12.