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From sentto-2643421-291-1016194835-brownh=hartford-hwp.com@returns.groups.yahoo.com Fri Mar 15 07:30:05 2002
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Date: 15 Mar 2002 12:20:35 -0000
From: BDPA-Africa@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [BDPA-Africa] Digest Number 291

Date: Thu, 14 Mar 2002 21:33:22 +0100
From: Yassin J.A. Akerabi <yassin@africanewsnow.com>
Subject: DigAfrica Special: Net lessons from China

Net lessons from China

By Daniel Tynan, CNET via DigAfrica, 14 March 2002

The international Internet

Want to see the future of Internet access? It's simple: Find the United States on a desktop globe, then rotate the sphere 180 degrees. The future's right there under your finger: the People's Republic of China (PRC).

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Max Sun, CEO of CBCom, mainland China's largest private ISP. The things he told me had striking implications for the future of Web access both here and abroad.

Access today

Right now, Net use in China and the United States couldn't look more different. According to Nielsen NetRatings, there are more than 165 million Netizens in the United States, most of whom have access to at least one PC. In China, 34 million Net users share about 12 million desktops. So at this stage of the game, China's Net penetration is still significantly behind that of the United States and Europe.

Here's the second big difference: Unlike U.S. Netizens, people in China almost never buy monthly subscriptions to an Internet service. Instead, they buy access cards, which are similar to calling cards in the United States. Each time they go online, they enter their access card number, and the ISP charges them by the minute. In addition, the average Chinese Net user spends the equivalent of $3 dollars a month accessing the Web. That seems dirt-cheap, until you realize that approximately two-thirds of the population makes less than $170 a month, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. As a result, Chinese ISPs must make sure their price is right; users constantly hop from one provider to another, looking for a better deal.

The third difference is that e-commerce is virtually nonexistent. And why is that? Hardly anyone in China has a credit card. According to Sun, China lacks a system for authenticating and verifying online credit purchases. Only business-to-business users have successfully implemented Net commerce. (Come to think of it, that's not so different than it is in the United States after all.)

The cellular revolution

Although China doesn't yet have as many PCs or e-commerce sites as the United States does, cell phone use is rampant. There are more than 140 million cell phones in the PRC, about 15 million more than in the United States. China is also a hotbed of development for 3G, the next generation of high-speed cellular access; telecom giants Nokia and Alcatel both have 3G research centers there.

People in China are more familiar with cell phones than with computers, says Sun. I see huge growth in terms of wireless Web access. He says that it's likely that 3G will go mainstream in China by the middle of this year--well before it takes off in the States or Europe. According to Sun, at that point, China could take the lead position in the wireless Net.

In other words, instead of the world looking to the United States for the cool, new wireless apps, everyone may be looking toward Asia.

Here's something else to remember: In about five years, Chinese--not English--will be the most common spoken language for Netizens, according to a United Nations symposium on the Internet. That fact will have huge implications for everything from site content to how your browser displays URLs. Site producers who want to be truly global will need to produce content in Chinese. And someone will have to figure out how to treat URLs in Chinese, because the current scheme of using ASCII characters for site names won't work.


Of course, China also has a healthy dose of Internet censorship. Sun says that the government filters pornography, gambling, and political sites at the backbone, so most objectionable sites never reach an ISP, let alone users.

Even then, Sun says, If you're savvy enough, you can get around the blocks. I have friends who are always complaining that their kids get into porn sites.

While I certainly hope government censorship is not in our future, China's remarkable Net growth has to give one pause. Consider this: five years ago, when the United States had about 57 million Net users, China had 620,000. U.S. users have tripled since then, but China's have multiplied more than 50 times. With a population of 1 billion, it won't be long before China dominates the Net. Get ready for the next Internet revolution