China smartphone owners swell number of internet users

image captionStrong sales of smartphones are helping drive up the number of internet users in China

China now has 591 million internet users, according to the latest official figures from the country.

The China Internet Network Information Centre added that 464 million citizens accessed the net via smartphones or other wireless devices.

The headline figure marks a 10% rise on last year and indicates 44% of the country's population uses the web and other net services.

The rapid growth is reflected in the valuations of some local tech firms.

Earlier this week the country's most popular search engine Baidu announced it would pay $1.9bn (£1.3bn) to buy 91 Wireless Websoft, a firm that runs two app stores in the country.

A forthcoming flotation of Alibaba, the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant, is also expected to value the firm at $62.5bn, according to research by Bloomberg.

Western brands have also been keen to target the market, as was highlighted by football team Manchester United's decision to launch a Sina Weibo account earlier this month.

The Twitter-like micro-blogging service reported in February that it had more than 500 million registered users, with about 46 million people using the product on any given day.

Another Chinese firm, Tencent, has said its QQ instant messaging service had an even high number - 798.2 million registered users - at the end of last year.

That is more than China's entire net population, but can be explained by the app's popularity in Indonesia and other parts of Asia as well as the fact that some mainland-based netizens would have registered multiple accounts.

The China Internet Network Information Centre's data on internet use goes back to June 2009 when it says there were 338 million people using the net on the mainland, 320 million of whom were doing so via a mobile device.

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