China’s internet population reached a whopping 530 million over the past six months, but its broadband subscriber base actually shrank as mobile became the most popular way for users to get online for the first time.
The government’s latest twice-yearly data dump, the Statistical Report on Internet Development in China, recorded total internet users at 538m by the end of June, up from 513m in December and 438m a year ago.
Of these, 380m were fixed broadband users, down from 396m in December, and 388m were mobile internet users, up from 356m.
China's burgeoning smartphone market is well documented, with growth particularly driven from the low-end thanks to well-priced, Android-based, devices from local players.
Somewhat disputed government stats from earlier this month even claimed smartphone shipments had already outpaced feature phones in the country.
However, on the broadband side, the country continues to labour as a whole under slow speeds and poor coverage – partly understandable given its sheer size.
From the all-time high of 450m broadband subscribers in December 2010, the number has fallen 15.5 per cent to its current level.
There are government pledges to invest over $200 billion in broadband and also long overdue signs that historically high prices will slide downwards.
There’s no doubt that the Chinese government will continue to spur ever higher internet user numbers, but question marks will remain about the speed and quality of service most are getting.
With 4G still a couple of years away and 3G in the country far from perfect, patience is a virtue which China’s internet users will have to practice for some time to come. ®