The number of Internet users in the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) will reach 40 million by the end of this year, 55.7 per cent more than the 25.7 million users at the beginning of 2000, according to figures released by market research firm International Data Corp (IDC).
Opportunities for vendors of online services are increasing rapidly as the region's users are expected to spend $US7.3 billion on electronic commerce purchases this year, IDC said. But vendors will need to be aware of the shift in Internet usage patterns towards currently less-developed economies, IDC said in its latest Internet Commerce Market Model report.
Over the next five years, the Internet user base in the Asia-Pacific region will grow at an annual rate of 40.6 per cent, bringing the number of Net users to 141 million by 2004. The value of e-commerce transactions will grow at an annual rate of 128 per cent over the same period, IDC estimated.
Reasons for the rapid Net growth include falling Internet access tariffs, the emergence of the free ISP (Internet service provider) trend in the region and an increasing interest in Internet-related initiatives among the successful "old-economy" companies in the region, according to Richard Jacobson, senior Internet analyst at IDC Asia/Pacific.
For the first time, China is the country with the most Internet users, having overtaken Australia in the first half of the year, IDC said. China now has 9 million users, representing 22.5 per cent of the total number of Internet users in the region, followed by Australia with 7.4 million (18.5 per cent) and Korea with 7 million (17.5 per cent).
But the ratios will shift dramatically in favour of currently less-developed countries by 2004, according to IDC.
By 2004, China will lead with 51.2 million users (36.3 per cent), followed by India at 22.4 million (15.9 per cent) and Korea at 21.3 million (15.1 per cent). At that time, Australia's Internet user base will have risen to 11.7 million, representing 8.3 per cent of the expanded market.
The shift makes it important that companies understand that Asia-Pacific is not a homogenous region, and each country market is unique and needs to be addressed differently, according to IDC. For example, it is necessary to provide local-language Web sites in many countries in the region, IDC said.