Rural Chinese get online as mobile overtakes desktop

A Chinese woman uses a mobile in front of two statues in Beijing The number of people accessing the internet via mobile has risen 10% since the end of 2011

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Mobile phones are now the most common way for people to connect to the internet in China, a report has said.

For the first time, desktop computers are no longer the leading method for the country's 538 million connected citizens to get online.

The report from the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) said over 50% of the year's new internet users were from rural areas.

A fall in smartphone costs has been the key cause of growth, experts said.

"Mobile phones are a cheaper and more convenient way to access the internet for [residents in] China's vast rural areas and for the enormous migrant population," said the report from the state-linked CINIC.

Mobile internet users now number 388 million, up almost 10% since the start of the year.

"Mobile phone prices continued to drop," the report said.

"The emergence of smartphones under 1,000 yuan [$157, £100] sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers."

The total number of those online has risen 5% since the end of last year, many of whom are very active in cyberspace.

Bill Dutton, professor of internet studies at the University of Oxford, told the BBC that the trend followed similar growth in other parts of the world.

"We're moving to what we call next-generation users," he said.

"They're likely to have three or four devices in their homes, therefore they're able to integrate computing into their lives wherever they are."

Analysis

With more than a billion people using mobile phones, China is already the largest mobile market in the world.

Therefore, the confirmation that more Chinese people are browsing the internet using mobile phones rather than desktop computers is hardly surprising, especially after the rapid growth of smartphone usage in the country over the last 12 months or so.

According to a report by Needham & Company earlier this month, China became the largest smartphone market in the world, with more than 33 million sets of mobile phones sold in China compared with 25 million in the USA at the same time, and the growth rate was a stunning 164% too.

Many experts say that we are only witnessing the beginning of China's dominance in the global smartphone market now.

He added that the rapid adoption of mobile among the rural community was one of necessity over desire.

"There's a wave of people coming online that would not otherwise be able to afford to be there."

Great Firewall

Over half of the connected population in China frequently use microblogging sites like Sina Weibo, a service similar to Twitter which is banned in the country.

The popularity of these services has prompted the government to force users to sign up using their real names.

Internet use in China has had a rocky history. The country has been on the end of sharp criticism from human rights groups for blocking large amounts of content from its citizens - a system which has been dubbed the "Great Firewall of China".

The report's implications are likely to have been noticed by the country's Communist leaders.

Mobile phones are an ideal platform for the microblogs which have become unofficial forums for information about unrest, scandals or disasters.

While internet access through web-browsers is constrained by the Great Firewall, specially written mobile programmes - or apps - frequently circumvent China's internet controls.

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