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Why your website is slow in China (and how to fix it)

Why Your Website is Slow In China

Report shows China internet users are now roughly 800 million, which is equivalent to the total population of Japan, Russia, Mexico, and the US combined. China is no doubt a vast market to tap for your business.


Data: China Internet Network Information Center; graphic by Bloomberg Businessweek

But here’s the problem: users in China are experiencing slow loading time on foreign (your) website.

Site visitors expect a website to load in less than two seconds, and yet 90% of sites take five seconds or longer to load in China. There are a couple of reasons why such a phenomenon exists, and we pinpointed two main reasons to discuss in this article:

  1. Limited Peering Capacities
  2. The Great Firewall of China (GFW)

Limited peering capacities

Chinese internet ecosystem works very differently from other countries. It’s a long story to tell, but we’ll be as simple and concise as possible. Ready? Here we go.

There are top 4 providers in China: China Telecom, China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Education & Research Network (CERNET). They pretty much cover over 95% of the internet traffic in China.

Right now the internet exchange in China is inexpensive but congested. However, the top 4 providers are reluctant to open up their market to other providers, in other words, the amount of IXP (Internet Exchange Point) is very limited in China to resolve the issue.


Also, peering with China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile outside of China is very expensive especially in the Asia region. Direct peering with these providers often means paying premium pricing.

Combining all the different factors mentioned above, we get: limited connectivity, lower internet coverage, and less peering points to support the huge demand.

Now, let’s simplify it by making an analogy: The price for cities to connect their highways together to form a junction is astronomical, so drivers don’t have many options to choose from. Also, since a highway junction is expensive to build, only two lanes are available for traffic congestion, thus causing slow traffic. This is exactly what’s happening right now to China’s internet infrastructure.


The Great Firewall of China network

The main reason why the GFW (Great Firewall of China) is one of the many issues causing slow loading time is that it uses Deep Packet Inspection to monitor the internet, which sometimes may cause packet loss, meaning that the requested data couldn’t make it to a user’s computer.

This is then magnified due to the “limited peering capacity” issue we talked about in the previous section. Now, the lost packet has to be retransmitted via the congested line, which equals to slow load time/bad user experience.

The GFW also blocks Google, Facebook, and Twitter which provide many essential libraries and apps for engineers that are widely adopted.

For instance, Google Analytics is widely used by most websites globally. But since Google is being blocked in China, any website with Google Analytics installed will take longer to load.


So, how these might impact your online business

Did you know 45% users expect a website to load in 3 seconds less; 40% users abandon a website that takes 3 seconds more to load; 1-second website delay can lose you 8% conversions?


To penetrate the Chinese market, you have to excel. Once past the 3-second load mark, you can expect the netizen to turn elsewhere – that’s a customer you’ve likely lost forever, and it reflects poorly on the brand you want to develop there.  

Consider how you view a website that doesn’t perform well. If it’s slow to load, you’ll likely close the page. If it lags even after loading while you’re trying to navigate, you feel frustrated and don’t want to be there.

Your brand reputation in China depends on website performance, and some of the challenges include:  

  • Webpage Size – The larger your site (and mobile site), the slower it will be to load.  
  • Website Components – If you have social media content on your page, it might fail to resolve altogether or show up looking incomplete.
  • DNS Lookup Issues – China’s system must look for your DNS record on the international internet which slows processing time, and it might not resolve on the first click.
  • Blocked Content – Some content, such as social media, may be blocked and cause your website to lag in loading or load only partially.

It’s important to test your load speed locally during peak usage periods in China for an accurate performance assessment. Once you see the data, you’ll understand the need to do better. To circumvent these issues, there are a couple of options you may consider.

Host your website in China


Our partner Alibaba Cloud is one of the top options when it comes to hosting service in China

The easiest route to better load times and site performance is to host your website in China. To do this, your first step is to apply for an Internet Content Provider (ICP) License. With the ICP license in hand, you can contact a local Chinese hosting service provider.

Wait, what is an ICP License?

An Internet Content Provider license is a registration number issued by the Chinese government that acts as permission to host your website from a China server. Hosting providers enforce this law, so without the license, they won’t talk to you. You might be able to obtain your hosting and domain, but your site won’t go live without it.

The host will display your ICP license number in the footer of your site. Obtaining an ICP license doesn’t improve your website performance. Instead, it serves as a prerequisite to deliver your content from a local hosting provider to improve load time and performance.


Use a China CDN

The other step to speed up your site performance is to use a Chinese Content Delivery Network (CDN). The CDN caches your website content and loads your site faster based on the viewer’s geographical location. Working with a China CDN can also help overcome some of the barriers to entry into the market while ensuring top-tier performance.

China CDNs utilize local Points of Presence (PoP) to deliver your website to the local audience at a much faster speed than coming from outside the country. Points of Presence are the intersections of critical networks. While evaluating CDNs to partner with, be sure to check how many PoPs they have and where they’re dispersed. Some may be limited to metropolitan areas.

Our partner Cloudflare offers China CDN service for some of the major cities in China

But in order to use a China CDN, you also must obtain an ICP License. So the important question is: how hard is it to apply for one?


The road to ICP licensing

The primary obstacle to effective website performance in China is the ICP License. You may apply if:

  • You have a Chinese business license.
  • You are on behalf of a business if you physically come to China and use your passport as an ID and remain in the country long enough to fulfill the registration requirements.
  • You run a joint-venture with a Chinese partner.  

But you may not qualify if:

  • Foreign businesses with no legal business presence in China
  • Foreign individuals without a passport (and who are presumably not residing in China)

The ICP application process entails:

  • Purchase hosting
  • Submit your ICP application and supporting documents to the hosting company
  • Hosting company checks your application and documents for accuracy and completeness
  • Hosting company submits the ICP application to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT)
  • If approved, the MIIT notifies the host who will then unlock your account

You might notice in this process that you, as the foreign business owner, will not interact with the MIIT. You also cannot appeal if rejected. The application process can be frustrating and tedious. There’s also a high chance of rejection because China doesn’t want to allow foreigners to host locally. So, what can you do to avoid this hassle?


A better solution: Near China CDN

A Near China CDN means utilizing local CDNs near China with nodes located in Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and more. The performance using this solution to boost speed in China is exceptional in comparison to most global CDNs on the market. This is a very common option since most foreign businesses find applying ICP license very challenging.

mlytics partnered with many Near China CDN providers to help customers deliver their content in China without the hassle of applying for their own ICP licenses – and you don’t have to host your site from within China. With mlytics, you get fast load times and reliable performance without the complications.

Here’s why mlytics can help your online business thrive in China:  

  • Save you time and money without the need for ICP license application
  • We partner with more than 2,100 PoPs to cut load time in half
  • Down-to-city-level performance optimization
  • AI Load Balancing for down-to-city-level performance optimization

Sign up for an account or contact us to learn more about how mlytics can help your brand gain a foothold in China. Note that only Pro plan or above have access to Near China CDN Power-Ups. The Basic plan only provides standard global CDN Power-Ups.


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