BEIJING: Residents of lower-tier Chinese cities are showing high levels of online engagement, according to new data from Synovate.

The research firm's latest Media Atlas China indicates that 53% of 16 to 64-year-olds in tier 5 areas, officially defined as "undeveloped small cities" with a median population of 600,000, have access to the web.

Among the tier 1 "megacities", with a median population of almost nine million people and far higher economic development, this rate is only slightly higher at 61%.

But the average time spent browsing in tier 1 cities was 2.6 hours a day, with 44% going online daily. In tier 5, these totals dropped to 1.4 hours and 27%.

Despite this, the report pointed out that certain small cities showed far higher digital usage rates than the norm. For example, 61% of residents in Puning, a tier 5 city in China's south-eastern Guangdong province, were found to be internet users.

Synovate research director Jessica Liu added: "Internet consumption figures for lower tier cities seem to be lower than those seen in tier 1 cities on average, however the true picture is there are vast regional differences by tiers and cities."

Elsewhere in the Synovate report, the popularity of micro-blogging Weibo sites was revealed to be a nationwide, rather than higher-tier only, phenomenon.

Around a third of 16 to 24-year-olds in tier 5 cities had a Weibo, a proportion that rose to 45% in tiers 1-2.

Meanwhile, the lack of fixed-line infrastructure in some smaller cities has been a boon for the mobile internet, with residents bypassing traditional desktop and laptop PC connections and going online via their smartphones instead.

According to Synovate, 28% of tier 5 residents used the mobile web in the past month, higher than the 24% who did the same in tier 1.

"The latest findings from Media Atlas China show the strength in number and the sophistication of mainland Chinese consumers in their digital habits, a nation of increasingly online and on-the-go people," Steve Garton, Synovate's global head of media, added.

Data sourced from Synovate; additional content by Warc staff