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China's Internet Revolution: From Follower to Leader

Source: | 2024-05-06 14:35:36 | Author:


PHOTO: VCG

By Staff Reporters

This year marks the 30th anniversary of China's full access to the Internet. As one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century, the Internet has propelled human society into the Information Age.

"Network information technology is currently the most concentrated area of global R&D investment, with the most active innovation, widest application, and greatest driving force for global technological innovation," said Sun Ninghui, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, during a high-level conference held on April 19 at the Computer Network Information Center of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the birthplace of China's Internet.

He also noted that after 30 years of development, the Internet in China has evolved from a "follower" to a "peer", and is becoming a "leader."

A rapidly evolving landscape

In April 1994, China made its Internet debut through a 64K international special line, becoming the 77th member of the global Internet community. Over the next six years, the foundations of Internet infrastructure were established followed by remarkable growth. By the end of 2000, Chinahad connected over 380,000 registered websites, and its online users had reached 6.2 million.

During this period, the Internet landscape in China evolved rapidly. The establishment of key backbone networks like CSTNET, CHINANET, CERNET, and CHINAGBN facilitated nationwide connectivity. This era saw the transition from dial-up connections to broadband services, marking a significant leap in Internet accessibility and speed.

In the 1990s, characterized by Web 1.0, major Chinese Internet portals like China.com, Sina, Sohu, and NetEase emerged, marking the beginning of the portal era. They presented information in a portal format, capturing people's attention, and many of them went public in the U.S. around the turn of the century.

Simultaneously, instant messaging applications led by Tencent's QQ experienced rapid expansion in China, covering great distances in a short time. The convenience and usability of these apps were unparalleled at the time, with countless users scouring the Internet for potential friends, enjoying the anonymity behind screens to engage widely in social interactions. Around 2000, Alibaba and JD.com was founded. These platforms pioneered online shopping for a vast number of Chinese netizens, laying the foundation for the world's largest online shopping market.

Mobile Internet and broadband revolution

The early 2000s heralded a new era with the widespread adoption of mobile Internet technologies. China's telecom companies played a pivotal role in this transformation. In 2009, ChinaUnicom launched its WCDMA-based 3G network, marking the beginning of the mobile Internet age. Subsequent advancements led to the commercialization of LTE FDD-based 4G networks in 2015, revolutionizing Internet speeds and connectivity.

Simultaneously, broadband infrastructure underwent a revolution. China initiated the "Broadband China" strategy in 2014, focusing on nationwide fiber-optic network upgrades. By 2016, 10 northern provinces had achieved full fiber-optic coverage, including rural areas.

The latest official data shows that a total of 3.6 million 5G base stations have been built nationwide. The penetration rate of 5G users exceeds 60 percent and the number of ports with gigabit network service capability is over 24.56 million. The world's first 400G all-optical inter-provincial backbone network link has been officially commercialized.

By the end of 2023, the number of recorded websites exceeded 3.8 million and the number of Internet users reached 1.09 billion. The role of integration and empowerment is fully manifested. Additionally, applications such as instant messaging, mobile payment, and online car rental have flourished, expanding the new space of digital life; in the field of production, 5G applications have been integrated into 74 out of 97 major categories of the national economy, and the industrial Internet has covered all 41 major categories of industry.

Chinese firms become global players

The last decade witnessed exponential growth of China's Internet ecosystem and technological innovations. The mobile Internet became ubiquitous, empowering diverse applications from e-commerce to social media platforms.

China's Internet giants emerged as global players, with market values exceeding trillions of RMB. Companies like Tencent, Alibaba, and Huawei spearheaded innovations in AI, cloud computing, and telecommunications. China's achievements in high-speed rail, smart cities, and digital governance are intertwined with its Internet prowess, showcasing a holistic approach to technological advancement.

As the country commemorates 30 years of Internet integration, it stands at the forefront of global digital innovation. The journey from a 64K line to a nationwide fiber-optic network, from desktop Internet to mobile connectivity, epitomizes its digital transformation.

Looking ahead, China's commitment to innovation, infrastructure development, and international cooperation promises a future of digital excellence and continued leadership in the digital age.

"From 5G to the world's largest fiber-optic broadband and mobile networks, from IPv6 to the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, from supercomputing to quantum communication, China has achieved significant results in key core technologies such as basic software and core components," Sun observed.

Editor: 林雨晨

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