A report on Xinhua, itself quoting PCWorld, says that by the end of October, China only has 38.6 million subscribers to 3G mobile services, a tiny proportion of the country’s 800 million mobile users.
Chinese telecoms companies are now openly talking about 4G, so has 3G been a complete write-off, with all of its billions of investment? China Mobile alone is unlikely to hit its government target of 50 million users, with only 16.9 million signed up so far.
One reason is the small number of smart phones in the market – with only urban yuppies having enough cash to afford them – and another is the slow connection speeds that 3G offers.
With the Chinese internet running slowly as it is, 3G is not fast enough to stream videos or load any interesting content. Since many Chinese websites are text-heavy, it makes sense for most users to stick to WAP and only use text-based services.
According to Jon Russell, a tech journalist based in Bangkok, Asia now leads the world in mobile internet penetration. Several countries, such as India, Indonesia, Cambodia, Turkmenistan and Bangladesh have around 15% mobile internet penetration (compared to a world average of 3.81%).
Russell says the thing that all these countries have in common is that the Nokia Symbian phones, rather than smartphones, dominate the market. The point is, most people in Asia are using the cheapest way of getting online possible – not buying smartphones and enabling 3G.
In China, analysts believe large numbers of people will skip buying computers and go straight online with their phones. They will use their phones because that’s the cheapest way of accessing the internet. And that budget-consciousness is not great news for 3G, or 4G, or for generating ad revenues.