BEIJING: Consumers in China are adopting a wide range of new digital behaviours, although popular habits remain distinctive among different demographics.

Ericsson, the communications giant, has estimated that there are 380 million internet users and 770 million mobile phone subscribers in the country at present, with considerable room for growth still remaining.

According to the company, average annual earnings in China's largest urban centres rose by 8.8% to $2,515 (€2,058; £1,714) in 2009, and 87% of city-dwellers are confident about their economic prospects in the coming 12 months.

Some 94% of this group own a mobile phone, 65% have a PC with an internet connection, 60% pay for a fixed line phone and 20% possess a laptop, totals that have climbed by at least a quarter in the last five years.

With regard to the web, 44% of netizens streamed video at least once a week, with 40% visiting online communities, 19% utilising internet banking platforms and 12% buying goods via this channel during the same period.

A further 22% went online through their mobile phone with the same degree of frequency, including 15% who logged on to instant messaging properties, 12% who sent email and 10% who were active on social networks and forums.

For over two-thirds of this cohort, the main reason for surfing the mobile web was to "kill time", compared with 54% that cited the portability of wireless devices and 21% that argued it was a good way to socialise.

Elsewhere, 88% of young consumers in first, second and third tier Chinese cities revealed that they browsed the internet every day.

More than four in ten members of this segment also accessed the mobile web once a week, with 28% chatting on instant messaging sites, 19% contributing to online communities and 18% sending email.

Almost half of this demographic said that having a web-enabled phone allowed them to "interact with my friends any time", and 34% agreed this medium was "as important" as its desktop equivalent.

The online audience had also expanded in size to reach 107 million people in rural regions of China by early 2009, the last date for which official government statistics are available.

Ericsson suggested that approximately 30% of these less-developed markets currently receive mobile services, with China Mobile drawing a majority of its customer base from such areas of the country.

"In rural communities, the use of mobile phones and the internet is focused more on the basics and fun," Ericsson said.

"Many rural farmers only use their mobile phones to make voice calls and don't have much use for functions or features, while internet usage is centred on gaming and chatting."

Per capita disposable income levels in the countryside stood at $755 in 2009, per the National Population and Family Planning Commission, and these shoppers typically displayed a preference for spending big on technology brands.

"Rural consumers are in general very positive towards new technology and believe it will help to improve life, but they need somebody to show them how to use it," Ericsson said.

"The purchase of high-tech products not only improves living standards, but elevates people's status in their community."

Data sourced from Ericsson; additional content by Warc staff