China-Britain Business Focus Magazine
With the half a billion internet users in China representing only 40% of the population, China offers a growing opportunity for selling goods and services online. Disposable incomes are rising and business opportunities are increasing, so it makes sense that cloud application providers, eCommerce brands, and financial service providers want to reach China. But, if not done correctly, the investment could be wasted. CDNetworks has been operating in China for six years and we’ve learned a lot about how to overcome technological and regulatory hurdles when serving a website in China.
Challenges of Reaching China with Your Website
As far as challenges, let’s take on the Great Firewall first. The Chinese government implemented the firewall to protect its citizens. You, as a web property owner and brand, need to respect the firewall and understand the restrictions and guidelines as well as monitor and localize your content not just from a language perspective, but also to tailor to the firewall.
Both when crossing the Great Firewall and once inside China, there is a high risk of being blocked with content, such as adult and gambling, and deep political views are forbidden. Clothing, jewelry, and fragrance brands must ensure that photography is tasteful and models do not bare more skin than necessary. Online shoppers in China are more likely to seek the opinions of others, so blogs, forums, and ratings are important, although they must be continuously moderated for inappropriate and political comments.
On the converse side, China’s Ministry of Internet Technology and Ministry of Commerce are finding ways to support and promote foreign investment in eCommerce. Even though China encourages eCommerce investment, navigating website regulations in China is challenging. An extensive list of requirements includes verifying what licenses to procure and where to display them on your website as well as determining acceptable and unacceptable content. Most organizations pay third party consultants and attorneys to help navigate the requirements and ensure compliance. However, without continuous compliance oversight, websites could be blocked and unblocking is difficult.
Hosting outside of China is also problematic. A typical website hosted in the U.S. or EMEA takes 20 to 40 seconds to load in China. No website users will stick around for that kind of web performance. Even if you host a datacenter in Hong Kong and maybe one in Singapore or Tokyo, you still have to go through the Great Firewall, adding 10 to 15 seconds. The Network Bench chart below shows loading a web object from a datacenter located in Hong Kong (red) vs. one inside the Great Firewall (green) – Hong Kong is 50% slower.
Performance of a single 64kB object from Hong Kong (red) as opposed to within the Great Firewall.
Connections between population areas in China also pose a problem. Not all end users are in the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Millions of potential customers reside in tier 2 and tier 3 markets. China’s internet infrastructure has limited peering points, fragmented network topology, and poor connectivity. Consequently, setting up datacenters in major cities is just not enough. Performance will not meet your or your end-users’ expectations.
So what are you options? You could build your own datacenters throughout China, which would take years and garner a high price tag in consulting fees and lawyers. You might collocate in China, although this still may not help you reach all of China with acceptable performance and, depending on your co-location partner, you may still need to hire a consultant to help with regulations, licensing, and content. For retail brands that only want to dip their toe in China, several online “malls” exist including Taobao and TMall, however this is different from establishing your brand and building a market in China.
If you want to build a customer base in China for your application or brand, it is best to work with a content delivery network that has points of presence in mainland China and local expertise to help with licensing, advise on content, and keep websites from getting blocked by content governing bodies. CDNetworks has 25 points of presence in mainland China in addition to staff and our own network operations center. We know about the regulations and licensing. We constantly monitor regulatory changes, from both business and technology perspectives and we are experts on web performance. We would be happy to demonstrate performance improvements in a proof of concept with your website.
Jeff Kim, President & COO of CDNetworks Americas/EMEA
Please contact us at [email protected].