By Jo Twist
BBC News Online science and technology staff
China is leading the world in the number of subscribers to high-speed net through phone lines, says a report.
China now leads the world in terms of broadband over phone lines
The number of broadband subscribers via DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) has doubled in a year to 13 million.
Industry analyst David Greggains said it was "amazing growth," but was still only 6% of China's total phone lines.
The DSL Forum, an international broadband consortium, said high-speed DSL net grew globally with 30 million new subscribers over the last year.
"Worldwide, the number of subscriptions has grown amazingly," Mr Greggains, a vice president of the DSL Forum, told BBC News Online.
"By the end of June 2004, there were 78 million subscriptions worldwide.
"At this current growth rate, we confidently expect that around December this year, it will hit 100 million."
The massive growth in China has partly been down to the growing community of online gamers, but also because the authorities have pushed towards using broadband in education.
"Video over DSL is a very big hit and the vast majority is local content for entertainment and education," said Mr Greggains.
"Another thing which is big is interactive learning, group learning where kids will get together and do homework jointly using the internet."
Just as in South Korea, gaming and gambling is also big, particuarly interactive multiplayer games.
But there is still a long way to go, said Mr Greggains, until China matches South Korea's broadband penetration. There, 29% of all phone lines carry broadband net.
Although China has more DSL lines than any other country it is still only reached 1% of its massive population.
China's rate of growth is set to pass 20 million subscribers by the end of the year, though.
Ironically, China is believed to extend greater censorship over the net than any other country in the world.
Recent legislation required that all 110,000 net cafes in the country use software to control access to websites considered harmful or subversive.
In June, the Chinese authorities also set up a committee to oversee and ban imported games that "could threaten national unity".
But like many countries, explained Mr Greggains, China believes ubiquitous high-speed net access will drive the economy.
Locally-developed content, building on the skills of a computer-literate population, is seen as vital to growth.
Installing the DSL infrastructure and equipment required has proved to be economic in China because of the size of its population, as well as the geography of the state and how housing is organised.
In many areas, phone lines are being installed from scratch, so it is easier to make them DSL enabled from the start, said Mr Greggains.
Broadband net access is seen as a vital building block
"People tend to live in large blocks of flats, so it is relatively easy to put DSL provision in basements.
"Where you have very dense populations in blocks, it is relatively cheap to provide," he explained.
In countries with older phone infrastructure, like the UK, many areas have had to wait until their phone exchanges have been upgraded in order to carry broadband.
Typically, Chinese DSL is eight times faster than in the UK, which usually varies from 512Kbps to 1mbps.
But because metropolitan areas in China tend to be densely populated, even faster technology can provide broadband 40 times faster.
This is because the lines only need to travel relatively short distances from basements to service hundreds in a block of flats.
The global growth of DSL has been "truly exponential", said Mr Greggains. Four years ago, there were about one million subscribers, and that is approaching 100 million, he added.
Driving the take-up is the demand for video, online gaming, peer-to-peer file-swapping, and other multimedia activities.
"Everyone is hungry for better and more content," explained Mr Greggains.
"In the UK and Europe, it is very much about net access, while in the Far East, there is a phenomenal amount of gaming and video on demand."
DSL is the most common way to access the net and uses standard copper phone lines. Only in the USA is high-speed net through cable modems dominant.
There are many flavours of DSL, but the UK predominantly uses ADSL - Asymmetrical Digital Subscriber Line.