Two statistics entered my radar today and stopped me dead in my tracks, which doesn’t happen often. Both concerned the remarkable growth in the connectivity of the Chinese population. The first comes courtesy of the China Internet Network Information Center and reports that the total number of Internet users in China has risen by 23.4 percent from 111 million in 2005 to 137 million at the end of 2006. That’s still something in the region of just 10 percent of the total population of 1.3 billion. The second, via the China Net Investor was even more gob smacking: the China Mobile telephone company has a staggering 301 million cellphone subscribers. Let’s put that into some perspective, a single telecoms company has more cellphone subscribers than the entire population of the United States (298 million as of July 2006.)
Talking of the US, if that growth trend continues at the same rate then it could be just a few short years before China overtakes America as being home to the most Internet users with 210 million currently. And that, dear reader, could change the online world culturally, politically and commercially. I will leave aside the temptation to comment upon the security implications, unlike many commentators, simply because according to security specialists Sophos 34.2 percent of malware originated from the US last year compared to just 31 percent from China. There’s no real need to be pointing the finger of security blame to the East when so much of the blame can be found nearer home.
The very fact that Internet growth has exploded as it has, in the face of brutal state sponsored censorship, is nothing short of incredible. Many foreign websites are blocked, citizens and jailed for posting political opinions online, and Beijing imposes its own version of history (as evidenced by the recent editing of the Chinese version of the Wikipedia entry concerning Chairman Mao which makes no mention of famine or Cultural Revolution massacres alike.) The ‘Great Firewall of China’ has been more successful than many of us thought it would be, and even the old adage of ‘the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it’ has managed to be suppressed it would seem. Not least thanks to the efforts of those companies desperate for a piece of the Chinese online gold rush, companies such as Yahoo and Microsoft which have conveniently changed history by omitting references to such things as the Tiananmen Square massacre from their Chinese search services.
China is also cementing its position as an Internet technology leader, with the news that the IPv6 long haul link between Beijing and Tianjin is one of the fastest on the planet at 40Gbps, and forming a core part of the infrastructure of the planned China Next Generation Internet (CGNI.) And then there is the attack on the web browser client market, with the Chinese developed Maxthon which already has some 30% of the Chinese browser market and is set to be marketed globally this year.
One thing is sure, expect to see some Chinese fireworks online during the course of the next year or so…
I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .
Actual numbers are completely meaningless when comparing internet (or cellphone, or whatever) use between countries with different population and demographics.
The percentage of people using the technology is, and there China is lagging behind.
The large numbers quoted (especially for internet use) are also in large part people having access at work, rather than at home. Most US and European people will have both, yet are not counted twice (I'd not be surprised if the Chinese do count such people twice).
And of course do the Chinese need bigger pipes. If they have more users in an area they need more bandwidth in that area to serve them all than a US ISP would where there are more people connected but spread over a wider area and connecting to a larger number of backbones.