China's Internet populace grew to 591 million by the end of June, as more new users in the country relied on handsets to go online, according to a non-profit research group.
The growth raises China's Internet penetration by two percentage points to 44 percent, the government-linked China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) reported on Wednesday. During the first half of this year, the country added a total of 26 million new Internet users.
China has the world's largest Internet population, but still a vast swath of Chinese rarely go online, if ever. Many Chinese still lack knowledge of computers, or have little need to use the Internet, according to the CNNIC. In the country's rural areas, Internet penetration is especially low, at only 28 percent.
Over the past years, China's Internet growth rate has slowed. But mobile handsets are helping many Chinese go online for the first time, the CNNIC added.
The country's mobile Internet population reached 464 million at the end of June, up by 44 million people over the six month period. About 70 percent of China's new Internet users surfed the Internet using phones. In contrast, 35 percent used desktop PCs, while 12.7 percent accessed the Internet through laptops.
China has already surpassed the U.S. as the world's largest market for smartphones. At the end of this year, smartphone shipments to the country could reach 240 million units, almost twice that of the U.S. market, according to research firm Canalys.
Instant messaging remains the most popular use for the Internet in China, followed by using search engines, visiting news websites, and listening to music. Online shopping, group buying, and making reservations on travel sites are some of the fastest growing Internet services.
CNNIC counts Internet users as those aged six and up, who have gone online in the past six months, causing some analysts to criticize the group's figures as inflated.