China's Mobile Internet Users Surpass Desktop Users

Willis Wee

CNNIC has recently released a lengthy but fascinating report showing how mobile is overtaking the desktop in China. As you can see in the graph below, there is a continual surge of mobile internet users.

CNNIC says there are more than 388 million mobile internet users recorded in June of this year. That figure has finally exceeded desktop internet users which are slightly over 380 million users.


The report also found that 72.2 percent of internet users use mobile devices to browse the web. In contrast there are lower proportion of internet users using the desktop as their gateway to the internet. Six months ago, the desktop accounted for 73.4 percent of all Chinese internet users. Today, it accounts for 70.7 percent, a drop of 2.7 percent [1].


So why the huge jump in mobile internet users? It’s largely thanks to users in the rural areas of China. CNNIC compares users who are from the city versus the countryside and came into conclusion that people outside of big cities depend on their mobile phones to access the internet. That doesn’t discount desktop in anyway as it is used by 45.7 percent of the rural area citizens. Notebook/laptops are at a miserable 8.7 percent. So it looks like there’s a space for cheap notebooks to penetrate rural regions in China.


Mobile phones accounted for a whopping 60.4 percent of the rural region’s internet usage. Not only are there more internet users in China, the time they spent online is also getting longer. Six months ago, Chinese spent 18.7 hours online. Today, an average user spent 19.9 hours, about 6 percent increase in time spent on the web. Web users vary in age, anywhere from 10 to 60 years old. But the bulk of internet users are aged between 10 to 39 years old. The majority of users are at least high-school educated and are students or freelancers.

The monthly income of Chinese internet users have two outstanding groups. One has an average city salary of about 2000 to 5000 RMB and another is the lower tier of “below 500 RMB” group. Users in town and cities accounted for 72.9 percent of all internet users while villages accounted for 27.1 percent. Again, new internet users are coming from villages and their virgin experience to the web is via their mobile phones.

So how are Chinese users using the internet? You can find a breakdown below. Surprisingly, weibo/microblogging accounts for 50 percent of web activities, which is far more than group buying in China for sure!

Use No. of Users (Millions) Usage Proportion (Percent) 6-Month Growth Rate (Percent)
Instant messaging 445 82.8 7.2
Search 428 79.7 5.2
Music 410 76.4 6.4
News 392 73 6.9
Blog / Personal sites 353 65.7 10.9
Videos 349 65.1 7.6
Games 331 61.6 2.1
Microblog 273 50.9 9.5
Emails 258 48.1 5.1
Social networking 250 46.6 2.6
E-commerce 210 39 8.2
E-learning 195 36.2 -4
E-banking 191 35.5 14.8
E-payment 187 34.8 12.3
Forum/BBS 156 29 7.7
Group buying 62 11.5 -4.4
Travel booking 43 7.9 1.2
Online investing 38 7 -5.5

So overall, we hope CNNIC statistics are helpful to foreigners who are looking at China for opportunities. If you understand Chinese, I would urge you to check out the entire CNNIC’s report here. But note that there’s obviously a divide in internet user behavior in the China – with white collar people on one side and an emerging group for rural people. I would also urge you to read the story of "W and L" which has been translated by the good folks at Techrice and Tea Leaf Nation to understand the Chinese internet a little better.

  1. If you’re wondering why the percentages don’t add up to 100 percent, that’s because users could access the internet via desktop, notebook, and/or mobile – so there’s overlap.  ↩