Another view

The Net in China

Chine today counts 22% of the world’s Internet surfers and “locally” designed “apps” and manufactured connected objects are multiplying no end. This “digital boom”, however, masks a more complex situation, depending on which geographic zone you consider. Gurvan, Director for the Data Processing Department for a luxury goods company based in Shanghai, his responsibilities covering the Asia-Pacific Region gives us his ‘world view’ on the state-of-the-art of technologies involved in data processing in China.

The Net in China

Gurvan works and lives in the richest city in China and one which counts among the best connected urban areas in the country. Not a week goes by without our regional manager taking note of the number of workers drawing and laying and installing fibre cables along the streets of this 24 M inhabitant mega-polis.

All day, every day, he observes Chinese people constantly connected for private purposes. “From a professional point of view, collaborative tools have not yet been integrated in Chinese minds and e-mails are still the rule of the day” notes our UTC graduate in Artificial Intelligence and Man-Machine relations. Gurvan is astonished by the digital ‘conservatism’ of the thirty year age bracket of employees in his company.

What he has noticed is the development of completely Chinese innovations after using ‘improved’ versions of the famous Facebook (Renren), Twitter (Weibo) and Google (Baidu). He cites WeChat, a special network and chat forum combined as one of the most spectacular – with 1 billion subscribers in just 4 years. A recent report announces that the WeChat users consult their account, on average every 6 minutes!

With a level of success such as this on the domestic Chinese market, the programme is now being exported over and beyond the Great Digital Wall. “Distinct from earlier message systems, there is an on-board translation pack that allows the readers to have their messages sent in English and/or Chinese” adds Gurvan who is an adept of the Chinese ‘Net’. The only drawback for the moment is that publications seen are posted publicly but it is not yet possible to go viral and share massively a post.

When Gurvan analysed the supports used, he discovered that the Smartphone outstrips the PC as the preferential access mode to the Internet, adding that “Purchasing a PC still lies beyond the financial possibilities of a large fraction of the Chinese population”. The Chinese smartphone brands – challengers of i-Phones and Galaxy y- such as Mi or Huawei – have promised that will produce units at twice or three tome less than the price for foreign equivalents. As Gurvan underscores the situation, the democratization is not always respectful of intellectual property rights. On the Chinese equivalent of YouTube, “Sur Youku”, and also on a large number of ‘streaming’ specialist sites, you can find the entire pirated gamut of Western world copyright items – “because there is no way go buy the original over the Net or in any shop” says vigorously one of the luxury company employees.

As far as the quality of the connexions is concerned, our computer science specialist does have some misgivings. The Chinese Net seems to be having trouble in absorbing the exploding demand and all Chinese are not equal faced with the Net. “Using some tests, we noted and analysed the access time to our own sales site, and saw that the times could be different by a factor of two or three, depending on where the request originated”.

The huge coast-lien cities such as Shanghai, Hong Kong or Tian Jin are continue to increase the number local urban subscriber connections but they in fact only represents a fraction of the reality of the Chinese net. In international terms, the quality of Internet links and phone line quality with Europe remains highly variable. “And despite the encouraging changes we can see with the physical infrastructures, the maturity of the Chinese Net has not yet reached the level of its neighbours Japan and Korea or even Europe” add Gurvan who has spent the past 4 years in China. “The two State operators China telecom and China Unicom regularly face problems of net customer connectivity: if you want to consult a site via another supplier this proves difficult”, he adds.

Gurvan then describes how several major foreign groups have been led to building their own internal networks to handle professional data exchanges. In his analysis, Gurvan adds that the flow rate problems seem to be made worse by heavy-handed controls exercised by the Chinese authorities. “The Chinese Government is aware of the opportunity that a digital economy represents and in all probability things will start to move in the right direction here”, concluded our graduate in his world view.