Is the Internet Speed in China Fast Enough for You?
The Internet Speed in China, 2014
I happen to do a lot of my work on the internet, and I imagine many of our readers do the same. Whether you are a blogger, web designer, or SEO specialist, having a fast internet speed is vital to your productivity.
When I decided that I was going to start a business in China, one of the first things I wanted to look at was the health of the broadband Internet speeds. I already knew about the Great Firewall, and that I would need a VPN to access many popular and crucial websites such as Google and Facebook (see our review of the top 5 best vpn for China). Since VPNs add some latency to your internet activities it is important to have a fast broadband speed even before adding a VPN.
So how do the Internet speeds in China stack up to those in the West?
Well. It depends. But currently, the situation is not good. (One can use testmy.net to compare internet speeds from different cities)
According to chinadaily.com, in the second quarter of 2013 China ranked 98th / 200 in the world for fastest internet speeds, with an average of about 3.8 Mbps or about 0.5 megabytes/sec. Average speeds in the US are about 8.0 Mbps.
Despite these terrible numbers, high-speed internet is not cheap in China. Chinese citizen’s pay on average 4x that of the US per Mb/s and 469x the rates in Hong Kong, which is just across the border. Now, don’t put too much stock into these numbers, after all it is a little unfair to compare the average speeds in all of China (which include rural areas) against those of Hong Kong, which is really just one mega-city.
Just as internet speeds vary across the US, depending if you are in a rural location or in a big city, one will expect the same in China. Larger cities in China will often have newer apartment buildings that have fiber optic lines that can reach over 100 Mbps 0r 12.5 megabytes/sec. Keep this in mind when you are looking for an apartment to live in.
Shanghai seems to be the city with the highest average internet speeds of about 6.0 Mbps.
When I was in Beijing in November 2013, which was around the time of the CCCP congress — basically when all the Communist Party government officials come together and figure out who the next premier is going to be. Due to the heightened alertness of the government to any spontaneous demonstrations organized through micro-blogging platform or social media, the internet speeds took a major nosedive while I was there. It was excruciatingly slow. So, if you decide to live in Beijing, make sure you factor in political events as possible factors slowing your internet connection.
The Effect of VPNs
Most foreign expats living in China will have a VPN, or virtual private network, that allows them to bypass the internet. Because of this extra in-between security protocol, you will find your internet speeds slightly lower than advertised when using a VPN. Depending on your VPN service, you can find the bandwidth very congested at peak hours. Just be aware of this.
Different Service Provider Variation
Here’s how the major internet service providers in China rank against each other in terms of speed, as of :
- China Telecom (4.06 Mbps)
- China Unicom (3.87 Mbps)
- China Mobile (3.77 Mbps)
Remember these numbers are quoted in mega-bits per second. To convert to megabytes (what you are probably more familiar with) you need to divide by 8. So, generally you can expect an average download speed around 0.5 megabytes / sec. To put this in perspective to stream a 360p Youtube video without buffering, requires a connection of 1 Mbps. So yeah, be prepared for some stuttery youtube pain.
The Good News: Progress is Rapid in China
So the internet speeds in China right now are not great, even though you are paying fairly heavy prices. Depending on what speeds and prices you are used to now, it may be difficult to adjust. I am from Toronto, and I am used to being gouged by internet service providers, however the thought of having to deal with 0.5 megabytes per second is frightening.
Don’t despair though! One thing you should realize is that China is a country of rapid progress. China internet speeds in 2013 increased over 20%, and progress does not seem to be slowing down, as the Chinese government realizes how important the internet is to modern economies.
The good news is that the Chinese government has plans on upgrading the telecommunication infrastructure, pledging significantly increase broadband internet speeds to a country average of 20 Mbps (2.5 megabytes / sec) in 2015. That’s an improvement of over 400% in the span of 1 to 2 years.
Furthermore, the future looks incredibly bright for fibre optic internet in China. The main cost of laying down fibre optic internet connections comes from the so called “last mile”, essentially the last bit of fiber going to individual residences and businesses. The government in China recently decreed regulations that requires builders to establish these fiber connections in any new building being built in China. This is a huge contrast to the situation in the US, where it is up to the telecom companies to decide if they want to install fiber or not. Given the virtual monopolies of ISPs in the US, widescale adoption of fiber internet is going to be very slow without some sort of government intervention.
Okay so the internet in China, in its current state, is nothing to write home about. That, and the necessary addition of a VPN to bypass the Great Firewall, can make your online experience less than ideal. Remember that these quoted speeds are just the averages. If you really need a fast internet connection in China, fiber connections are available in certain buildings, in certain cities — you just have to look for them. Other than that, you can always just sit tight and wait until the situation improves, which it will, as China progresses in its typical economic juggernaut style. In the next two years significant leaps in speed are to be expected as China enters the digital age. I, for one, cannot wait.
testmy.net: Looks at the average internet speeds in any country or city.
testinternetspeed.org: An interesting article on the rapid increases in internet speeds in China.