E-Business in Developing Countries: A Comparison of China and India

Peter V Raven, Xiaoqing Huang, Ben B Kim. Global Information Technologies: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications. Editor: Felix B Tan. Volume 1. Information Science Reference, 2008.


The personal computer and the Internet have changed the nature of business worldwide—in both developed and developing countries. People geographically isolated from each other are now able to communicate in real time. However, how has this ability to communicate affected global businesses, especially among developing nations? This is not a trivial question, as the notion of the “digital divide” appears to be expanding, rather than contracting, as businesses in developed countries are increasingly connected, while those in developing countries lag relatively farther behind. The promise of the Internet and efficiencies of e-business are not equally distributed.

Table 1. Growth of the Internet—World Wide (Note 1: % Pop. is the Penetration Rate, expressed as population percentage; Note 2: Internet Growth Percent is between December, 2000 and June, 2005; source: The Internet World Stats News, No. 008, July 2005, http://www.internetworldstats.com/pr/edi008.htm, accessed August 6, 2005)
World Regions Internet Users, 2000 Internet Users, 2005 Growth % Population 2005
Northern America 108,096,800 223,392,807 106.7 % 68.0 %
Oceania 7,619,500 16,448,966 115.9 % 49.2 %
Europe 103,096,093 269,036,096 161.0 % 36.8 %
Latin America & Caribbean 18,068,919 68,130,804 277.0 % 12.5 %
Asia 114,303,000 323,756,956 183.2 % 8.9 %
Middle East 5,284,800 21,770,700 311.9 % 8.3 %
Africa 4,514,400 16,174,600 258.3 % 1.8 %
Total World 360,983,512 938,710,929 160.0 % 14.6 %

In this study, we examine the adoption and use of Internet strategies in furthering e-business in two large developing nations—China and India. We will see that each country has chosen a different path to utilizing the Internet in business. This may be instructive for other developing countries as they increasingly adopt the Internet and utilize its efficiencies for business and development.

Industrialized countries have adopted the Internet for business purposes at different rates. The U.S., where the Internet first developed, appears to be farthest along in business usage and near the top at a consumer level, although many other countries have significantly increased their use of the Internet (see Table 1). The Internet penetration of China and India are shown in Table 2. Most U.S. firms have an Internet presence, but not all use the Internet in the same way or to the same extent. Increasingly, U.S. firms feel the need to have a Web presence to reach their customers and to serve them efficiently. Sometimes the result is a full-service, e-business exchange site, but for other firms the result is merely an informational site. For marketers in developing countries, though, the question may be to what extent can the Internet be used in marketing products both locally and globally? Firms from industrialized countries have successfully done this, but there is little information about developing countries using the Internet to market their products internally or externally. This study examines the commercial use of the Internet in China and India in an attempt to understand their approaches to e-business. We examine several key areas we think may explain the adoption of e-business in these developing countries: regulatory issues, infrastructure, policy, and culture.

Background and Literature Review

Both China and India have large, growing populations and are frequently compared to each other because of this fact. However, they also have very different cultures and political traditions, which affect the dynamics of a direct comparison. While Internet usage is growing rapidly in both India and China, each country suffers from poverty, illiteracy, poor information, and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. As these countries approach Internet business strategies differently, can we learn from their experiences? Are the strategies and metrics used in describing China and India of use for other developing countries—or to developed countries? We anticipate that an understanding of the ways in which the Internet is used in China and India, especially in business-to-business (B2B) transactions, will help firms in both developing and developed countries utilize better Internet strategies to compete globally. Although our focus is on B2B e-business, we will also discuss business-to-consumer (B2C) e-business where it is appropriate. While there are differences between the two in target customer, there are also many similarities and the lines between them are often blurred. Previous work has shown that B2B is primarily driven by global forces in more of a “push” mode, while B2C is more internally driven—”pulled” by consumer markets (Gibbs, Kraemer, & Dedrick, 2003).

Table 2. Comparisons of China and India (Sources: iWatch: Wake up call for India, http://www.wakeupcall.org/china_india_comparision/china_india_chart.php, accessed 8/6/2005; Strauss, El-Ansary, and Frost [2006])
Economic or social factor Unit of measurement China India
Electrical Generation Capacity Megawatts 258,000 89,000
Electricity Generated Billions of kilowatts 1,166 417
Telephone lines connected Millions 240 43
Mobile/cellular phones Millions 400 75
Internet connections Millions 45 9
GDP USD—billions 1121 460
Population Millions 1260 1060
Population Increase per year Millions 10 19
Birth Rate Numbers per 1000 8.8 27
Per Capita Income USD/year/person 1060 480
Internet Users (2004) Millions 95.8 39.2
Internet Penetration (2004) Percent 7.48 3.77

Why compare China and India in this study? Both are developing rapidly in certain sectors and represent the largest of the emerging markets. China is the largest communist country with a population of 1.3 billion and India is the largest democracy with a population of 1.08 billion (CIA, 2006). Besides their respective sizes, each country has similar problems of disparate ethnicities, languages, and skewed distributions of wealth. Both China and India are developing economies, encountering many of the same problems of transition from traditional to developing to global economy. Both are now members of the global trading community, the World Trade Organization (WTO). They have approached their entry into the WTO, though, in different ways. India, probably because of its British-colonization heritage, has approached the world markets in a more market-driven fashion. China having no such market tradition, is still feeling its way into the world marketplace and seems to perceive a greater need to control the process. These approaches result in different paths to development and to e-business (Kshetri, 2005; Levinson, 2004).

Economic Development

The level of development of a country impacts its ability to trade with other countries, improve its standard of living, and prosper (Economist, 2006; Harrison, 1996). It should be no surprise that countries develop at different rates and in different ways. Each country has a different set of inherent resources—from natural resources to human resources—which have influenced their history, culture, and personality. Until recently, these phenomena, including wars, have had the greatest impacts on rates of development and development typically proceeded at a relatively slow and predictable pace. The industrialized countries of Europe and North America, for example, took about 200 years to become developed. Today, however, technology, especially the Internet, is seen as helping developing countries “leapfrog” the traditional stages of development (Levinson, 2004). In fact, developing countries are often too impatient to wait for the slow pace of traditional development processes, as they fall further and further behind developed countries.

There are many barriers to Internet and e-business adoption in developing countries. For example, incentives for the integration of the Internet in businesses may be low due to poverty and perceived low demand for goods and services. The infrastructure may be inadequate to sustain growing adoption of Internet business strategies and government policies may not support technology development. There may also be deep cultural problems acting as barriers, such as illiteracy and language issues, credit problems, and a limited tradition of entrepreneurship and innovation (Levinson, 2004).

Development is a complex process. Many developing countries do not have a tradition of a market economy and wrestle with the notion of privatization of public enterprises (Yoder, Borkholder, & Friesen, 1991). While developing countries open to international capital flows are likely to receive advanced technology through foreign investments, policy measures are more likely to be successful if directed towards stimulating the accumulation of location-specific assets, including ICT, rather than investment incentives to foreign investors (Nordas, 2002). Technology transfer is also affected by cultural and political differences (Al-Ghailani & Moor, 1995). Other indicators of a “chicken/egg” dilemma suggest that economic development precedes Internet development, thus contributing to the “digital divide” (Norris, 2000).

Outward-oriented countries are those that look elsewhere for growth. They seem to grow at a more rapid pace than more inward-oriented countries (CIA, 2006; Panagariya, 2004; Santos-Paulino, 2005; Young, Huang, & McDermott, 1996). Dollar (1992) cites the recent rapid growth of Asian developing economies compared to those of Africa and Latin America as support for an outward-orientation. An outward-orientation implies that trade liberalization, devaluation of the real exchange rate, and stabilized real exchange rates improve growth in developing countries.

With that, what is the role of technology, and specifically the Internet, in development planning? Akel (2001) suggests a four-step process she calls the “Internet Advantage,” consisting of creating a technology intensive environment, offering services to create a unique community, encouraging a climate of entrepreneurship, and providing appropriate assistance. These steps were applied to development within the U.S., but can they also apply to developing countries? We explore on the applicability of this process in subsequent sections.

Because of its relative newness and the rapid rate of development of the industry, the theoretical literature on e-business in developing countries is relatively sparse. However, the literature provides a basis for modeling the diffusion of e-business, including some of the barriers facing early adopters (Travica, 2002). Limitations and/or barriers to e-business in developing countries include limited Internet accessibility, lack of competition in international telephone traffic (which increases the cost of a network), lack of intra-regional infrastructure, and disproportionate penetration of the telephone in urban areas. E-business depends on several layers: an infrastructure layer—transportation (roads, air, railroads, etc.); a telecommunications layer (pervasive, modern, secure, and affordable channels); a software industry to support e-business; the opportunity for e-payments; and a cultural layer—including a tradition of remote shopping, such as catalogs and mail-order, and standardized goods and services assuring consumers consistent quality leading to trust.

Development of Technology

Technology predictably enhances existing inequalities between economies. Scientists rely on information to be current, but much is available electronically today, so even if it is free, scientists in developing countries may not have access to it. Ninety-five percent of all computers are in developed nations. Ten nations, accounting for just 20% of world population, have three-quarters of the world’s telephone lines (Arunachalam, 1999). The unequal availability of information in developing economies may also inhibit business knowledge and decision-making. Developing countries with better access to current information of their own and other markets, such as economic trends, consumer preferences, demand, currency exchange rates, and other business information, should be able to be more successful in business.

A number of factors affect the rates of adoption of technologies, including industrial organization, reliance on IT (Information Technology), local resources, management styles, political influence, regulatory requirements, etc. (Lanjouw & Mody, 1996). For example, stringent environmental requirements have encouraged adoption of pollution control and recycling technologies in Germany and Japan. Policies and economic incentives can retard or accelerate the rates of technology adoption by businesses (Chien & Salem, 2001; Colaco, 2003). In addition, cultural issues such as entrepreneurship and leveraging first mover advantage influence adoption of e-business (Gregorio, Kassicieh, & de Gouvea Neto, 2005).

Managers have control over organizational factors, but little control over broader environmental factors, such as increased competition, liberal government policies, and market stability—all of which have a positive impact on IT adoption (Dasgupta, Agarwal, Ionnidis, & Gopalakrishnan, 1999). There is also a strong correlation across countries between GDP/capita and Internet connectivity. While information technology is believed to be a new source for global economic growth (Friedman, 2005), there is also concern that the Internet may be a factor in widening the income differentials between countries. The regulatory environment’s influence on competition also has an impact on Internet connectivity (Kiiski & Pohjola, 2002). These issues suggest the extremely complex phenomena of technology adoption and development in developing countries. Without efficient access to the Internet, e-business is likely to be retarded.

With the possible exception of China, India has been affected more by changes in IT than any other developing country, yet it remains very poor. India has lagged far behind many other Asian countries in the adoption of the Internet. In a population of one billion people, there are fewer than two million Internet subscribers, a figure that contrasts with India’s closest comparator in size, China, which has more than three times as many telephone lines and four times as many Internet users. However, Internet users in India are estimated to be four times that of subscribers (Miller, 2001).

UN Secretary General Kofi Anan has warned of the dangers of excluding the world’s poor from the Internet suggesting that being cut off from telecommunications services is a hardship almost as acute as other deprivations such as jobs, shelter, food, health care, and drinkable water. The fact there are absolute inequalities between rich and poor nations in the virtual world is hardly surprising given the substantial disparities in every other dimension of life from health care and nutrition to education and longevity. The more interesting question concerns relative inequality of opportunities. Relative opportunities may lay in equalizing technological resources, such as through distribution of computer hardware, skills training, and network connections (Norris, 2000). Thus, many developing countries see a way out of their never-ending cycle of poverty through technology, especially the Internet.

China’s Approach to E-Business

In this section, we examine the ways in which China has approached e-business. Chinese universities joined the Internet six years after those in India, but policy makers and politicians soon realized its potential (Press, Foster, Wolcott, & McHenry, 2002). China’s leaders saw the impact of the Internet on Western and other Asian economies and understood its importance for China in the future (Hachigian, 2001). Chinese businesses are encouraged to embrace new technologies to be competitive in world markets and to be connected to the information needed through regulation and other initiatives.

China has taken to the Internet rapidly and has become the second largest Internet market in the world with around 8.5% of its population of 1.3 billion now connected. This translates to about 120 million users by the end of 2005 (Communications, 2006). More than half of China’s Web users access it through broadband, attracting firms such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Google.

Regulatory Environment

The Chinese government has made a concerted effort to develop the infrastructure necessary to fully utilize the Internet. However, because of the vastness of this country, most infrastructure development has occurred in urban areas. Rural areas are largely untouched by the promise of the Internet and e-business (Chen, 2003). This disparity does not seem to be a big issue to central planners, as their focus is more on consumers than on business (CII, 2000).

Government regulations play a much more important role in China than in the U.S. (Xu, Zhu, & Gibbs, 2004). Other facilitators of e-business in China include technology competence, enterprise integration, and competition intensity. In China, firms lag in using e-business related technologies, especially inter-organizational technologies.


China’s development of the Internet was in two phases—1) First Phase (1987–1993)—when a few scientific research institutions were allowed access, 2) Second Phase (1994 to the present)—implementation of full services (Lu, Du, Zhang, Feicheng, & Le, 2002). By 1999, most government departments were connected and had their own sites. The Chinese government had hoped to have one million enterprises connected by 1999 and double that in the following few years. Five main Internet applications were approved: 1) electronic government; 2) electronic business, including the Golden Bridge, Golden Card, and Golden Gate projects; 3) distance education; 4) distance medical treatment; and 5) digital library. However, problems of slow speeds, high usage costs, poor information quality, ineffective management, incomplete policies, and unbalanced information flow remain.

China has improved its infrastructure and readiness for e-business considerably, but there is much room for further improvement. In order to take full advantage of the Internet in managing the supply chain, fast and accurate information is needed, along with the ability to adjust inventory, production, and transportation systems and react quickly to market changes (Daly & Cui, 2003).

Between 1999 and 2002, China added 106 million landlines, 163 million cell phone subscribers, and 36 million new cable television subscribers—considerably more than other countries (WEF, 2004). Currently, China is adding four million mobile subscribers a month and has the world’s largest broadband Internet market with almost 25 million users, growing at more than a million per month (Economist, 2005). Clearly, China is building an infrastructure to sustain future growth.


For reasons of national pride and prestige in the world community, China seems to focus on increasing the number of people using the Internet. This strategy has long-term implications for development. In what might be called a pull strategy by emphasizing the consumer use of the Internet, China may be hoping that demand will eventually be filled by local businesses meeting the needs of local Internet consumers. Indeed, PC penetration has had rapid growth—from only 1600 in 1994, 80,000 in 1996, to 22.5 million in 2000. However, still only a small portion of the total population (<2%) has a PC (Harwit & Clark, 2001).


Culture plays a significant role in adoption of technology and use of the Internet (Bagchi, Hart, & Peterson, 2004; Levinson, 2004). For example, the Technology Adoption Model (TAM) helps explain IT adoption by suggesting that perceived ease of use and perceived usefulness of technology influence attitudes toward technology. Attitude toward technology in turn influences intentions and then behaviors, including adoption. The TAM has demonstrated its usefulness in several cultures, but notably not in Japan. An explanation for the differences in technology adoption is in cultural values (Bagchi et al., 2004). The Japanese tend to rank lower than many other cultures on Individualism and higher on Collectivism and Power Distance, the opposite of cultural values necessary for positive attitudes toward technology adoption. Culture, of course, does not act alone in technology adoption, as suggested by the technology transfer literature, which also indicates a role for income per capita, human capital, openness, type of government, and others (Bagchi et al., 2004).

The technology adoption model (extended version) has been tested in several industries in China, where it was supported (Di Benedetto, Calantone, & Zhang, 2003). In addition, the authors suggest that cultural factors such as cosmopolitanism and mobility may lead to diffusion patterns across countries.

Other Chinese cultural characteristics that influence technology adoption include a preference not to be in debt, a desire to touch and feel articles before buying them, a fear of a disappointing shopping experience, security issues with providing credit or debit card numbers to strangers, and the perils of an ineffective distribution system where purchased items may be lost or delayed in transit. Chesse (2001) also depicts the reliability and efficiency of distribution systems in China to be an issue in e-business acceptance. In addition, transparency is not universal among Chinese firms and many companies are reluctant to share operational and financial details, which could reduce the effectiveness of B2B e-business.

Interpersonal relationships in doing business are important to the Chinese. The Chinese tend to prefer face to face business negotiations and rely on long-term trust and family relationships in doing business (University, 2004). These cultural business characteristics may be difficult to facilitate through the Internet and may make Chinese business leaders more reluctant to accept e-business.

There is also a language barrier for Chinese Internet users (University, 2004). Although Chinese language Web sites are increasing, most business sites are still in English or other Western languages. To compensate, Chinese students are learning English and other Western languages in schools. In comparison to India, this may be facilitated by the considerably higher literacy rates in China—90.9% compared to 59.5% in India (CIA, 2006).

The literature suggests that technology could be at odds with traditional cultures—that “Western” technologies may negatively influence “non-Western” cultures (Shoib and Nandhakumar, 2003). While this may have some merit, the reverse could also be true—that “non-western” cultures may use “Western” technology in different ways that are innovative and mesh better with their non-Western culture. For example, collaborative Internet programs have been used by Navajo tribal elders in traditional consensus decision-making (Keating, et al., 2001).

The Internet has facilitated innovativeness and entrepreneurship in the developed countries, which adopted it early on. While China is not well known for producing entrepreneurs, adoption of the Internet in China is helping to develop a number of entrepreneurs who do not rely on official connections or government sinecures. These new Net entrepreneurs are becoming role models for a future generation of Chinese business owners (McCarthy, 2000). However, competition among Chinese B2B enterprises is still in its early stages, limited by a lack of trust in partners and a reluctance to share information (University, 2004).

Taken together, these factors of e-business adoption suggest that China is progressing rapidly toward integrated e-business, but still has a long way to go to reach the level of many developed countries.


It is difficult to determine the exact nature and extent of e-business in China, as data varies widely by source, if it is even available. It does appear that B2B online transactions far surpass B2C, with one estimate suggesting 75% are B2B (E-Commerce, 2005a). It is estimated that about 18% of surfers in China buy online. Internet use has been especially rapid in online financial services.

China’s potential for e-business is huge. With 100 million currently online and that number expected to pass that of the U.S. in a few years, e-business can only grow (Panlogic, 2006). In addition, the user profile lends itself to online buying—90% of users are under 40 and 2/3 of users are expected to buy online. However, e-business will be held back by low credit card usage and intellectual property issues. Most Web sites in China still do not support transactions.

The value of e-business in China is difficult to discern, as estimates vary greatly. One Chinese language report (CCID, 2005) indicates that the B2B market grew from 107.5 billion Yuan ($12.97 billion) in 2001 to 178.4 billion Yuan ($21.528 billion) in 2002 and to 346.4 billion Yuan ($41.803 billion) in 2003. The B2C market grew from 790 million Yuan ($95.33 million) in 2003 to 1.6 billion Yuan ($193.08 million) in 2004 (CCID, 2005). Another estimate for general e-commerce revenue suggests it is expected to reach USD 16 billion in 2006 (E-Commerce, 2005a). In any case, the various state and local governments continue to influence e-business, with Beijing, for example, wanting 80% of department stores in the capital to offer online shopping in 2005.

India’s Approach to E-Business

The Indian economy has been growing between 6.0 and 6.5% annually (James, 2002).

In a country well known for its role in outsourcing of IT and offshore call centers for industrialized countries; it is perhaps surprising that India has not progressed further in Internet penetration and e-business. Despite a large number of high-tech employees, only about 0.4% of the population was connected to the Internet in 2000 (Kiggen, 2001). However, current information suggests a combination of low broadband costs and inexpensive computers has increased Internet connectivity in India to about 38.5 million in 2005—and that is expected to increase to 100 million in 2007 (eMarketer, 2006). It is also interesting to note that the proportion of women Internet users will increase to about 40% of the user population.

Like China, India is a large and heterogeneous country with many dialects and cultures. It is still expensive to get online and the quality of the infrastructure needs improving, but India is moving rapidly towards greater Internet penetration.

One advantage India may have over China is widespread fluency in English, arguably the business language of the Internet. This is especially true in urban areas, where Internet connectivity is likely to be highest. Several issues that influence Internet use in India follow.

Regulatory Environment

The Indian government has strongly encouraged the development of the Internet and information technology through various incentives, including exempting the industry from burdensome regulations and controls (Miller, 2001). The government has followed up its encouragement by allocating 2-3% of its budget for IT and encouraging innovative uses of the Internet, such as using solar power and locating cyber-cafes near railway stations (Rao, 2002a). Unfortunately, while Internet backbone costs have been reduced, last mile costs are still high in India. In addition to more traditional uses, India anticipates that the Internet will empower poor, rural villagers to improve their lives (Quibria, Tschang, & Reyes-Macasaquit, 2002).


The IDC expects India’s ISP (Internet Service Provider) sector to grow by 27% in coming years and to reach 8.2 million subscribers by 2005 (Corp, 2003). As personal computer (PC) prices fall, increasing PC penetration will lead to greater Internet penetration. The IT sector, in fact, seems to be propelling the Indian economy forward. The Indian Government, through the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, is developing infrastructure to support IT (Colaco, 2003), but there is considerable variation between states (Press et al., 2002). However, between 1999 and 2002, India added only 15 million landlines, while China added 106 million (WEF, 2004). In the race between India and China in infrastructure development, India is coming in at a distant second. India is adding mobile subscribers at one quarter the rate of China (one million/month) and has only 3 million broadband accounts to China’s 25 million (Economist, 2005).

Indeed, the outsourcing of IT from western countries has stretched the infrastructure in many cities to its breaking point; resulting in power outages, increasing costs, and a shortage of qualified graduates, in what some refer to as the Bangalore Effect (Aspden, 2006).


Like China, India has a large rural population, much of which is not connected to the Internet. However, India has developed several initiatives to help connect rural villages (Rao, 2002c). The Indian model uses unique combinations of low-cost indigenous technology with low-cost delivery that utilizes the ability of the informal sector to respond and adapt to local needs (James, 2003). Examples of “pro-poor innovations” include small-scale rural telephone exchanges and very low cost computers that are accessible to poor, often illiterate users. The results suggest that sustainable Internet models for developing economies may look quite different from those in industrial countries.

As early as 1998, Prime Minister Vajpayee proclaimed that “IT is India’s tomorrow,” implying that the Internet is a key to this vision as an enabler of technology-based change (Wolcott & Goodman, 2003). Although the Indian government is still overly bureaucratic, its attitude toward regulation is beginning to change. Foreign investment in India has increased dramatically and the government has raised the levels of permitted foreign direct investment (FDI) in the oil and private banking industries (Walsh, 2004).

India provides an example of how fundamental, focused changes in policy and legislation can set free forces that accelerate Internet diffusion. While private sector initiatives expanded the Internet infrastructure and Internet services markets, government initiatives promoted the expansion of the Internet into parts of the country not well served by private ISPs (Wolcott et al., 2003).

Prakash (2005) considers the importance of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in “leapfrogging” India into the knowledge era. Not everyone agrees, however, with the Indian Government’s focus on ICT. Rather than acting to leapfrog India into the forefront of the global knowledge community, Mir and Mir (2005) suggest its role should be more of “catalysis.” As such, ICT works better when integrated into existing institutional programs of growth and welfare. Catalysts have more of an accelerating or facilitating role, rather than a transforming one, and work upon activities already taking place.


As with China, the societal culture, as well as the organizational culture, influences the adoption rate of IT in India (Dasgupta et al., 1999). Poverty levels are high in India, but some of the best run software firms also exist (Cheung, 2001a). Only a fraction of the population can be considered a target for Internet use, but that part is well educated, media-savvy, and an early adopter of new technology. Indian users tend to be young, male, and members of the middle class and above. Indian users prefer e-mail and Web surfing, rather than online shopping. Their reluctance to use credit cards also reduces the rate of growth of B2C activities (Cheung, 2001b).

India has a relatively high capacity for entrepreneurship, especially necessity-based, rather than opportunity-based entrepreneurship (Rao, 2002b). Young, moderately educated and well-off men are more likely to be entrepreneurs, as social rigidities still reduce the chances for women. However, changes are occurring. Poverty stricken rural areas are being targeted in India for IT development (Rao, 2002c). Some of these initiatives encourage women entrepreneurs to develop Web based businesses. For example, an Indian Institute of Technology project put women in charge of running 80% of the fast-growing number of Internet cafes and kiosks in Madras (News, 2004).

Most IT commercial initiatives are focused on products for global markets, but there are also “pro-poor” initiatives that have been generated by Indian IT institutions in an attempt to narrow the digital divide (James, 2003). Some of these have included small-scale rural telephone exchanges and ultra-low cost computers to provide the rural poor with access to the Internet. For example, less than 1% of the Indian population has access to a computer and more than 40% are illiterate, but a government initiative has developed the SIMPUTER, an inexpensive, portable, battery-operated, hand held computer. The SIMPUTER has text to speech capabilities and voice mail, but no keyboard. It can break written words into sounds in English, Tamil, Hindi, and Kannada (Meall, 2002). One interesting application has been in the Bay of Bengal, where fishing villages now have access to U.S. Navy weather forecasts, helping to keep fisherman safe, as well as showing locations of fish and current market prices.

Other direct impacts of ICT on development in India include providing market and other information, acting as electronic marketplaces in poor communities, farm cooperative information, farm management tasks, and other applications in education, healthcare, and governance (Quibria et al., 2002).

Traditional farmers in remote Indian villages are now conducting e-business through ITC, one of India’s largest agribusiness companies, which has created the e-choupal concept (Sawhney, 2002). Using ITC computers charged by solar panels and backed by batteries, e-choupals are like an integration of Internet kiosk, village gathering place, and e-business hub. Since their launch in June 2000, e-choupal services have reached 600,000 farmers in 6000 villages. Farmers gain by lower transaction costs and better prices and ITC benefits from better quality produce, higher prices in the international marketplace, and savings on procurement.


Such data as exists indicates that e-business is limited in India, although it appears ready for rapid growth in the near future. Online consumer purchases were about USD 130 million in 2004/5 and are expected to increase to USD 550 million by 2006/7 (E-Commerce, 2005b). Low PC and Internet penetration, security issues, among others, are holding back e-business in India. E-mail is used by 98% of Internet users in India, while banking is used by 32%, online bill payment by 18%, and stock trading by 15% (eMarketer, 2006). This data suggests a slow, but steady increase in e-business.


While Internet usage is growing rapidly in both India and China, both countries suffer from poverty, illiteracy, and poor ICT infrastructure. Technology transfer is affected by cultural and political differences. Thus, we should see a difference in rate of technology adoption and direction of economic growth between China and India.

A number of observers see technology as enabling developing countries to “leapfrog” the development process (Miller, 2001). While technology can be an enabler, the development process is much more complex than technology alone can rectify (Quibria et al., 2002). Government policies and regulations must not restrict businesses excessively. Infrastructure development and educational levels need to increase to allow e-business to occur. Economic growth will rely on complex interactions between private firms, the public and private sectors, and within and between governments. Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) and exports are seen as key to continued growth of the China economy (Yao, 2006). However, IT is also expected to have an important role in the continued development of China (Lemon, 2005).

China appears to have several advantages over India in the race to economic development through ITC (Thiagarajan, 2002).

  • The general infrastructure is superior to that of India, both in fixed-line subscribers and Internet penetration. China has invested about ten times as much in telecommunications as India and is spending about three times more than India on telecommunications, as a percentage of GDP.
  • China attracts more foreign direct investment (FDI)—many times that of India. Much of this investment is going into the China IT industry, creating significant opportunities for employment.
  • China policies allow for rapid clearances and approvals for technology businesses, especially those located in five economic zones and technology parks.
  • China has a stronger domestic sector than does India, allowing it to absorb production that may not be exported.

In addition, the centrally planned policies of China have focused on developing infrastructure nation-wide and especially in rural markets, and are quite dispersed. On the other hand, India’s market-oriented policies are not focused on the broad access to broadband, but rather on serving relatively few outsourcing companies serving the global community (Economist, 2005).

Yet, a number of obstacles stand in the way of adopting e-business. Wang (2002) lists ten obstacles he thinks most important. Among them are three critical issues for China that differ from obstacles in India: computer and English illiteracy among elderly business decision-makers; insufficient technical and legal protection; and incomplete understanding of the real sense of e-business.

Computer and English literacy are lower in China than in India. Colonization by the British in India required English as the lingua franca used for business and government communications. There has been no such systematic use of English in China. Computer literacy is probably also higher in India because of the huge software outsourcing business. Technical and legal protection in China is lacking. The legal system in India tries to protect intellectual property rights. Finally, an understanding of e-business has come late to China (Wang, 2002). E-business is not merely the use of e-mail and Web sites—it includes all the business processes that can be made more efficient through the Internet. India has substantial experience with software outsourcing to aid in their use of supply chain management, including the ordering, producing, marketing, paying, and delivering processes.

E-payment has been an obstacle to e-business in China, although Alibaba and its subsidiary auction site, Taobao, plan to use Taobao’s online payment tool, AliPay, for Alibaba’s B2B e-business site (Agency, 2005).

Also, China still has control issues, which it attempts to address by prohibition of certain activities. China is thought to have the most sophisticated Internet filtering regime in the world and uses it in various ways to prevent citizen access to political, religious, and other sensitive information (Bambauer et al., 2005). A recent example is the registering of bloggers and enlisting ISPs to help prohibit content that refers to democracy or political change (Chan, 2005). Even more recently, a controversy about Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft’s presence in China brings to light the issues of censorship, free markets, and Internet control (Elgin, 2006).

On the other hand, India has some advantages over China (Thiagarajan, 2002).

  • India has a greater fluency in English, the language of the Web. This, and the training of a large number of skilled technology workers, has enabled India to capitalize on its offshore outsourcing initiatives. China will have a difficult time in catching up on outsourcing.
  • The Indian government has also favored the software industry and encouraged it through tax incentives.
  • India probably has the highest number of SEI-CMM (Software Engineering Institute—Capability Maturity Model) Level 5 engineers in the world. The combination of this certification of quality and good management systems and processes has allowed Indian software suppliers to perform projects with great efficiency.

The rapid growth of Indian software and outsourced IT services has been a catalyst for continuing technology-based change and integration into the global economy (Sarkar & El Sawy, 2003). It has not hurt, either, that this growth is primarily outward focused on providing the large economies of North America and Western Europe with software and back office services. China, on the other hand, has focused more on internal e-business and the production of electronic products (Xu et al., 2004).

The Indian experience of integration of Internet into business is an example of how fundamental, focused changes in governmental policy and regulations can accelerate Internet diffusion. While private sector initiatives expanded the infrastructure for the Internet, governmental initiatives promoted Internet expansion to parts of the country poorly served by ISPs (Wolcott et al., 2003). Like China, India still has problems of poverty and unequal distribution of wealth, as well as infrastructure problems to overcome.

China has promoted a strategy of competition among government-owned organizations, while India has set policy through publicly visible task forces. India’s approach is relatively more transparent and market driven than China’s (Press et al., 2002). It is unclear at this stage which approach will yield faster economic growth in e-business, although China seems to have the advantage currently.

Table 3. E-business readiness rankings and scores, 2004-2005
  2005   2004  
  Rank Score (of 10) Rank Score (of 10)
Source: (Unit, 2005)
Denmark 1 8.74 1 8.28
India 49 4.17 46 4.45
China 54 3.85 52 3.96


Table 4. Summary of e-business differences between China and India (Data from various sources indicated in text + or – indicates the degree of difference)
Factor China India Advantage
* As indicated in the text, estimates vary depending on source. These are reported values for both B2B and B2C. B2B is the largest portion in both China and India.
Regulatory Environment + focus on consumers + focus on business, but primarily offshoring China
Infrastructure +++ broadband high penetration + broadband China
  +++ mobile − mobile  
Policy ++ central policy is very focused on growth throughout China + less planning for growth—mostly focused on key offshoring centers China
Culture + literacy >90% − literacy <60% India
  − English & computer (low literacy levels) + English and computer (higher literacy levels)  
  − entrepreneurship ++ entrepreneurship  
  − Poverty − Poverty  
Internet Users (2004) 95.8 million (2005 est. 100 million) 18.481 million China
Internet Penetration (2004) 7.48% 3.77% China
E-Readiness 54 49 India
Current e-business * (2004/5) $41.99 billion (Chinese source) $150 million China
Expected e-business * (2006/7) $16 billion (non-Chinese source) $550 million China

By many measures, China is ahead of India in the ITC race and is likely to remain so at least in the near future (see Table 3). However, we see India as progressing rapidly in adoption of ITC especially in business applications. In fact, the Economist Intelligence Unit (Unit, 2005), in its 2005 e-readiness rankings, lists India at 49 out of 60 countries measured and China at 54 (Table 3). The e-readiness rankings are based on a number of items comprising six weighted categories: connectivity and technology infrastructure—25%; business environment—20%; consumer and business adoption—20%; legal and policy environment—15%; social and cultural environment—15%; and supporting e-services—5%.

Both countries dropped in ranking somewhat from the previous year. China’s consumer and business adoption, legal and policy, social and cultural environments, and supporting e-services indices are lower than India’s. China’s lower level of entrepreneurial initiatives is also reflected in the rankings. China does do slightly better in connectivity and technology infrastructure and business environment. The drop from the previous year, and growth in the top ranked countries, should be of concern to both countries, though. The e-business rankings are interesting because they suggest that to succeed in e-business, a number of business and cultural factors must be in place, not just technological factors. Also, the rankings suggest that although e-business is growing rapidly in both countries, it is not yet large enough to transform large parts of their economies. However, both countries continue to attract foreign direct investment in technology.

The e-readiness rankings and other sources suggest that adoption of Internet and e-business technologies does not automatically result in increased e-business. Like other businesses, e-business requires good management, finance, marketing, and other business processes (Oyclaran-Oyeyinka & Lal, 2004). In order for any business, but especially e-business to succeed in international markets, understanding these markets and their consumers, whether other businesses or final consumers, is critical. Export promotion councils set up by industry and government can help entrepreneurial e-businesses in both India and China market to appropriate markets. Governments and industry should not neglect this critical element.

Conclusion and Recommendations

A number of studies have confirmed that China is generally ahead of India in Internet infrastructure development and e-business (Press et al., 1999, 2002), but others see it differently. Kshetri (2005), for example, argues that because India has a higher e-readiness rank (Table 3), it is actually better prepared for e-business than is China. The e-readiness rankings consider a number of factors and India has better “legal support for virtual transactions and digital signatures, well-developed private sector and entrepreneurship, the regulatory environment including taxation, and openness to trade and investment” (p. 11), among others. Improving IP protection and more consistent application of the rule of law will help China achieve greater development through the Internet and e-business.

While the adoption of technology to enable e-business in China is occurring rapidly, conducting e-business transactions is lagging, due to barriers in business, legal, and cultural perspectives that fail to adapt to the potential of the technology (Tan & Ouyang, 2004). The major differences between e-business in China and India are summarized in Table 4. While India will probably not overtake China in the ITC race anytime soon, we do see India attempting to uplift its poor rural areas through technology and also penetrate large foreign markets. Of course, there is a long way to go and as urban areas in both countries advance, the distances between urban and rural, as far as technology and development go, continue to widen. This disparity between urban and rural connectivity may have long range internal implications for both countries.

What should other countries, developing and developed, learn from the technology experiences of China and India? Can their experiences be a guide for development and utilization of the Internet and e-business? The answer is yes, with the caveat that what has worked for both countries will likely need localization and modification to work well in individual countries. With that caveat, we offer the following observations and suggestions:

  • The Internet is a compelling communications system that, properly used, can inform and educate people in ways that have not been possible before. While urban areas benefit initially, rural areas can also benefit if the proper infrastructure is built.
  • The Internet can change business models through e-business. E-business has the potential of unleashing innovative and entrepreneurial ways of thinking and doing business that will aid in economic development.
  • Landline based Internet models are rapidly being overtaken by mobile Internet connections in developing countries. Mobile technology has the potential of allowing even more users access to the potential of the Internet and e-business.
  • Developing countries can take advantage of the experiences of both developed countries and other developing countries as models for their own growth.
  • Governmental policy is an influential driver of Internet usage and e-business. Countries with a focused policy of infrastructure development (e.g., China) will likely outpace those with confused and unfocused policies (e.g., India).
  • Intellectual property protection and the rule of law must be enforced for sustained development, but has apparently not been critical in development during the initial stages (e.g., China).