The Great Firewall of China. Infamous. Cause of frustration for foreign businesses. Dividing the world’s largest economy from the rest of the world.
The Chinese Firewall came into existence in 1998. It is the barrier that separates all internet traffic from Mainland China to the rest of the world. The firewall monitors all traffic traveling into China. It governs all traffic and searches within the country. In short, this is a nightmare for foreign businesses trying to reach the Chinese market.
The Firewall is a roadblock, which comes in two forms. Network latency and Censorship. What you can expect are high latency times, poor network performance, and censored traffic.
Here are a few things to know when working with The Great Firewall of China.
Network Latency Effects
The Great Firewall of China will hinder network performance. There is no doubt about it. As the Firewall is a barrier to entry, it is no doubt going to cause a roadblock. The first thing that is going to occur is the Firewall needs to scan all the data entering the country. The filter determines whether there are any keywords that violate Chinese censorship laws. The second issue is traffic needs to pass through one of three points of entry into the country.
The Chinese Firewall has three entry points in Beijing, Shanghai, and in Guangzhou. By routing through one of these three areas, the traffic can be monitored. Also, by having only three entry points there can be congestion and packet loss.
The last item that is problematic to network latency is the Chinese Internet infrastructure. It is relatively underdeveloped. Once traffic is through the Firewall, it is not going to travel at the highest speeds throughout the country. This means if you are sending traffic into Mainland China from outside the Firewall, you will experience high latency and poor network performance.
Location, Location, Location
This is where location becomes important. If serious about delivering content into Mainland China, it will help to have a local presence. Many companies suggest Hong Kong. This makes sense geographically as it is close, but it is not within the Chinese Firewall. This becomes important as page load times slow when sending traffic from outside the Firewall. Slow speeds negatively effect conversion rates. Web users expect a page to load within 2 seconds. This is hindered if servers are not located inside the Chinese Firewall.
The good news is there are many global CDNs that have a network within Mainland China. Also, Amazon Web Services (AWS) has a server network based in Beijing. This will provide internal access to the Chinese market. The result is better latency times.
Censorship is a huge issue with transmitting information into Mainland China. The world further believes the Internet is a mechanism for the free flow of information. The Chinese Government is doing the exact opposite. Everything from keyword censoring to entire companies being excluded. For example, Facebook and Google are not operating in China. Also, events such as Tiananmen Square are censored from search.
When providing websites to the Chinese, knowing the latest censored items is essential. Poor network performance and extensive censorship make is a good idea to provide a stripped down version of websites to China. This will cut down on possible censorship issues. Also, it will help improve page load times and performance.
Getting Over the Great Firewall
Most Chinese know they are being censored to a certain extent. They just may not realize how much is being censored. China does a great job of educating the Chinese of the rich Chinese history. At times, there is a lack of knowledge about current global events. There is a subset of Chinese which heavily utilize Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). This will bypass censorship laws. This provides those who want to search the free internet, the ability to do so. This is consider using a “ladder” to get up and over the Great Firewall of China.
The Chinese Firewall is an ever evolving mechanism for monitoring and censorship. Since 2013, it has become stricter with regards to its censorship. There are many tools you can use to keep updated with regards to the latest in censorship of keywords. One such tool is GreatFire. This will allow you to see the latest updates with regards to the Great Firewall.
The biggest hurdle with maintaining an online presence within Mainland China is the Firewall. Few traffic entry points, high censorship, and poor infrastructure make it difficult to operate. Partnering with Global CDN’s and cloud providers are the best solutions to the Chinese Firewall. We at Datapath.io also integrated China Telecom to our console, which means you will have a good, optimized connection to chinese customers.
To learn more about network performance, you can download the AWS Network Optimization Whitepaper.