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China shoots for 800 million web users by 2015

Half a BILLION is not enough, apparently

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The Chinese government is hoping to close the country’s digital divide further by bringing a whopping 800 million of its citizens online by 2015, according to its latest pronouncement.

The ‘internet development plan’ for 2011-2015 was unveiled on Friday by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, Xinhua reported.

While the prediction sounds pretty impressive, 800 million would only account for around 57 per cent of the country’s vast population, of which 200 million are set to come from rural areas, the report claimed.

Government officials have complained in the past that efforts to increase the nation’s online population and improve broadband speeds have been hampered by the sheer size of the country and the high cost of fibre optic cables.

Complaints have also flooded in that the near monopoly of state-run service providers China Telecom and China Unicom is affecting the quality of services.

The latest quarterly State of the Internet report from content delivery firm Akamai places China a lowly 90th globally when it comes to average broadband speeds, at just 1.4 Mbps, although this was a 21 per cent increase on the previous quarter.

High infrastructure costs also mean that most Chinese web users pay considerably more for their broadband than those in other countries – three of four times that of users in the UK and US according to some estimates.

That said, given China has already blasted past the 500m web user mark, getting 300m or so online in the next three years doesn’t seem overly ambitious.

The report also repeated China’s target of generating 18 trillion yuan (£1.4tr) from e-commerce by 2015 and it’s certainly well on the way to achieving this goal.

A PwC report last month revealed that 70 per cent of consumers in the People’s Republic shop at least once a week, compared to just 40 per cent in the UK.

A Boston Consulting Group report at the end of March also predicted great things for the country’s e-commerce plans. China’s ‘internet GDP’ growth rate for the period 2010-2016 will top 17 per cent, putting the nation fifth in the world.

Xinhua said the MIIT report also announced plans to push 3G subscriptions past the 450m mark, predicting the country’s telecoms businesses would pull in revenues of 1.5 tr yuan by 2015.

Although 450m seems a lot, it would be less than half the estimated one billion who own mobile phones in China.

Analysts reckon at present that as many as 80 per cent of these subscribers are still on 2G, and say that 3G services have largely failed to meet consumer expectations, leading to poor take-up.

However, with 4G licenses still at least two years away in China, and with increasing numbers of budget 3G handsets flooding the market from home grown manufacturers including ZTE, Xiaomi and Huawei, 3G is surely poised for further growth. ®

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