China's in-country latencies and the role of ISPs

China's in-country latencies and the role of ISPs

It is a well-known fact that China’s internet landscape is the largest in the world. With over 700 million internet users (and with 695 million of those mobile internet users), it comes as no surprise that the Chinese internet landscape is a key target market for businesses across Europe.

What is also commonly known is that China’s internet landscape is unique. The Great Firewall of China, the region’s internet filtering system, is recognised throughout the world. China’s Cybersecurity Law also came into force on 1st June, strengthening the regulatory environment and impacting what data can and cannot be held outside the region. While it is widely known that the Great Firewall blocks certain types of content, for countries outside of the Firewall, it has a significant impact on web performance. As a result, many businesses in Europe that launch a website in the region will often find that their websites take more than 30 seconds to load!

But what is less well known is that it isn’t just the Great Firewall that causes internet performance issues. In fact, there are three factors that cause latency for European brands’ websites.

What causes latency in China?

The first factor that impacts European brands web performance is the sheer distance from Europe to China. It comes as no surprise that the 4,000 odd miles between Europe and China plays a role in causing delays to web performance. Usually, distance is the factor that impacts performance the most, as the number of exchanges between the origin server and the end-user adds to website loading time.

The second factor that causes latencies is as mentioned above, the Great Firewall itself, China’s unique internet filtering system. But the Great Firewall even causes delays to websites delivered from Hong Kong into China – in fact, the Firewall’s filtering process slows websites down by up to 40%.

The third is the latency caused by China’s internet infrastructure. In China, there are only a few Internet Service Providers (ISPs) – such as China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom to name a few. These state-owned ISPs are solely responsible for handling the traffic of 700 million internet users (which is also likely to impact web performance in the region). And for traffic to pass between these ISPs, traffic peering is required, and this is where the problem lies.

Peering is the interconnection of networks between ISPs, and is what allows data exchange to take place (peering is essentially what allows internet users to connect to almost every public network). But ISPs pay one another to peer – and in China, not only is it expensive to peer, but the interconnection points are also heavily congested. This means that data from one part of the country may not be able to make it to another part of the region.

The limited number of peering points also has a huge impact on reaching China’s internet users. Obviously, not all internet users are in the major cities of Beijing and Shanghai –  with over 600 cities in China, with more than 100 of those with 1 million inhabitants or more, a huge proportion of potential customers reside in tier 2 and tier 3 markets. Which again means that data might not make it to all parts of the country – and also means that as a business, you can miss a huge proportion of your customer base.

Because China’s internet infrastructure has limited peering points, fragmented network topology and poor connectivity, simply setting up data centers in China’s major cities is not enough to ensure high performance, as it doesn’t help with delivery across the whole region. For European businesses looking to successfully launch websites in China, you have to tackle in-country latencies in a more targeted fashion, which is why many businesses turn to content delivery networks.

How CDN (content delivery network) technology can help

A content delivery network is able to overcome the delays caused by distance, the Great Firewall and by the complex internet landscape. This is because a CDN will have points of presence (PoP) and infrastructure throughout mainland China, and will be able to cache data inside the Great Firewall, where within each PoP can help accelerate the speed at which content is delivered to the end user. And how do they do this exactly? When an end user requests a web page, the data is only ever being loaded from a nearby server, meaning it loads much faster as it has a much shorter distance to travel. Not only does this help overcome the issues with peering and with congested interconnection points, it also helps reduce latency caused by the firewall.

With more European businesses looking to target China, picking the right CDN is crucial for success. You need to ensure that your CDN provider has expertise of the Chinese market and has a physical presence in the region and is au fait with the rules, regulations and licensing (and has relationships with all of China’s key networks). Learn more

Tackling China is a lot to take on – but success can be found if you follow the right path. If you’re interested in hearing more tips, you can read more about ‘The most commonly asked questions around China CDNs’ as well as finding out ‘Can your CDN provider really tackle China?’

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