Young people in a Beijing Internet cafe  (Source: AP)
China will soon have more Internet users than the United States has citizens, research indicates

China now has more than 298 million internet users, which is a 41.9 percent increase over the same time in 2007, the government-sanctioned China Internet Network Information Center announced.

The CINIC report discovered internet use in the countryside is increasing dramatically faster than the major cities -- 60.8 percent growth in the countryside, with 35.6 percent in the cities, according to the report.

Mobile internet has increased 113 percent in 2008, with more than 117.6 million mobile internet users in mainland China.  Young people continue to drive mobile internet browsing, with 43 percent of students reading news, downloading music, checking e-mail, and similar tasks while online.   

In the future, the wider adoption of 3G internet could help increase the number of internet users dramatically, the report indicates.  The ability to browse the internet faster with faster data downloads will woo even more mobile phone owners to browse the internet on their handsets.   

"With the development of third generation (3G) mobile network, the wireless internet could see explosive growth in the next few years," according to the report.
More than 630 million people in China have mobile phones, and that number also is steadily increasing -- researchers expect many new customers to view the internet on their phones.

The number of internet users continues to increase despite the government's heavy internet censorship, which has continued in recent weeks.  The country already had the largest number of internet users, and will only expand its lead in years to come.

The large market for advertising and e-commerce has led to Google, Yahoo and other U.S. companies operating in the country, though with varying levels of criticism and controversy.  Google, Yahoo and Microsoft were all criticized by U.S. politicians, angry that the U.S. search engine companies agreed to censor material to Chinese censors.

Even with the large number of internet users, the overall penetration rate is just 22.6 percent, as China has more than 1 billion people.  In comparison, the United States has around 305 million people -- according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census -- with around 200 million internet users.

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