IDC: Asia Web users to outnumber U.S. by 2005

By 2005, the Asia-Pacific region, excluding Japan, will surpass the United States in total Internet users, International Data Corp. (IDC) said in a report issued Friday.

The research firm expects the Asia-Pacific's user base to expand from 64 million in 2000 to more than 240 million in 2005, despite single-digit penetration rates. In 2005, IDC predicts Internet penetration in the U.S. will be about 76 percent, while in Asia, less than 9 percent of the population will be wired.

Wireless devices will be important access tools throughout the region, with mobile phone use exceeding PC use. Currently, Asia-Pacific -- again, excluding Japan -- accounts for more than a quarter of the worldwide mobile-phones user base. IDC called the region's heavy wireless focus its most prominent distinction from the West's Internet development.

By 2004, IDC forecasts that the Asia-Pacific region will have more than 366 million mobile subscribers, with the percentage of mobile phones used for wireless Web access increasing from a scant 2.6 percent in 2000 to more than 40 percent by 2005. IDC predicts that growth will lead to regional mobile e-commerce revenue exceeding US$36 billion by 2004. Total e-commerce revenue in Asia-Pacific is forecast to top $600 billion in 2005.

The pace at which Web users turn into Web consumers will pick up, IDC said, warning businesses not to be put off by the Asian market's fragmentation. With the cost of establishing a market presence in Asia-Pacific so high, the Internet will serve as a key conduit for foreign companies, the research firm said, noting that the Internet is "too useful and too cost-effective" to be ignored.

Other market researchers have also predicted a dramatic expansion in Asia-Pacific's Internet user base. Including Japan, New York-based Inc. forecasts 173 million Internet users in the region in 2004, accounting for 27 percent of the world's total online population and generating $338 billion in e-commerce revenue in 2004.

Meanwhile, usage-tracking firm Nielsen/NetRatings Inc. registered 47.9 million Internet users in Asia-Pacific, including Japan, in January 2001 and reported that South Korea now has the world's fourth-largest Internet user base. By NetRatings's count, the U.S. Internet population currently accounts for 43 percent of the global Internet audience.

IDC, based in Framingham, Massachusetts, is a subsidiary of International Data Group Inc., the parent company of IDG News Service.

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