Gmail is getting faster but still not as fast as dial-up

Many in China have complained that Gmail is so slow that it is almost impossible to use (see our original story from March 2011 - Gmail now 45 times slower than QQ). We have continued to gather data on the Gmail situaiton in light of Google's continued operation in China. With more data we can now show how the situation has developed since March. The results are clear in this chart:

All foreign webmail providers are considerably slower than domestic competitors (QQ is included for comparison). Out of Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo, a distressed Yahoo, whose local partner in China is Alibaba, is consistently the fastest free foreign email provider. Hotmail has at times challenged Gmail to a race to the bottom. Using the same comparison as in March, Gmail is now only 9 times slower than QQ and has seen a considerable improvement in speed since September.

One way to put the speed of Gmail into perspective is to compare today's access speed with old dial-up modems, for those that remember. In the 1990s, they provided speeds up to 56 kbps, or roughly 7000 bytes per second. That is considerably faster than the average speed of either Gmail or Hotmail, when accessed from within China in 2011.

Apart from speed, the main problem with Gmail in China is instability. Rather than blocking the service outright, it seems that the authorities have chosen to impose occasional, random outages. Looking back over the year (from March onwards), we can see the following:

Gmail has had an acceptable download speed less than 30% of the times we've tested it. Most of the time, it's very slow (meaning less than 5000 bytes/second). Our data suggests that all foreign webmail services are temporarily blocked from time to time. Again, Yahoo performs better than either Gmail or Hotmail.

Data from QQ is included for comparison reasons. As QQ is hosted in China, it would not be blocked by the Great Firewall. While the data may indicate that QQ has been blocked at times, this is most likely due to problems with the test location or data noise. Please allow a margin of error of plus or minus 3% on all data which appears on this web site.

The data is based on 776 individual tests from March onwards. You can check the latest data for webmail services here.


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Tue, Jul 05, 2016 now testing VPN speed and stability in China

There is a commonly held belief in China that if you have a VPN that works then you should keep quiet about it. In terms of freedom of access to information, the problem with this approach is that access to knowledge suddenly is a secret. Today we are launching a project that we hope will destroy that model.

Our newest website, Circumvention Central (CC), aims to provide real-time information and data about circumvention solutions that work in China. Since 2011, we have been collecting data about blocked websites in China and now we will add data about the effectiveness of VPNs and other circumvention tools.

We are launching CC with four main objectives in mind.

Our first objective is to help to grow the number of Chinese who circumvent censorship restrictions in China. By sharing our information and data about these tools, we hope to show a wider audience which circumvention tools are working.

Our second objective is to improve the circumvention experience for users in China by bringing transparency to tool performance. We will measure these tools on speed (how quickly popular websites are loaded) and on stability (the extent to which popular websites load successfully).

Sat, May 07, 2016

The New York Times vs. The Chinese Authorities

Could the New York Times be setting the best path forward for news organizations in China?

Thu, Feb 18, 2016

From the desk of Lu Wei: Apple, encryption and China

Lu Wei, Director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, offers some friendly help to FBI Director James Comey.

Thu, Sep 24, 2015

Apple blocked CNNIC CA months after MITM attacks

In March of this year, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains. The root certificate authority for these domains was the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). CNNIC was controlled by the Chinese government through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and is now under the management of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). CNNIC was recognized by all major browsers as a trusted Certificate Authority. If CNNIC signs a fake certificate used in a man-in-the-middle attack, no browser will warn of any unusual activity unless the certificate is pinned.

After Google found these unauthorized certificates, both Google and Firefox revoked its trust in CNNIC a few days later, a development we at have adovacting for since 2013. Apple and Microsoft on the other hand, did not revoke their trust in CNNIC, nor did they make any announcements regarding the security compromise.

Wed, Sep 23, 2015

Malicious Xcode could spread via download manager Xunlei

What’s at stake?

We reported last week that popular Chinese iOS apps were compromised in an unprecedented malware attack. We discovered that the source of the infection was compromised copies of Xcode hosted on Baidu Pan. Apple has published an article urging developers to download Xcode directly from the Mac App Store, or from the Apple Developer website and validate signatures. We’ve now discovered that even if a developer uses a download link seemingly from Apple, he might still be possible to obtain a compromised copy of Xcode.

Please note that we do not have evidence that such attacks has happened. But it is an easy attack that anyone can implement.

How does it work?

This compromise happened because of Xunlei. Xunlei is the most popular download manager in China. Much of its popularity is due to the fact they can accelerate download speeds by pulling resources from other Xunlei users as well as cached copies on the Xunlei server. All of this, however, is invisible to users. Users can simply enter a regular http download address into Xunlei  download manager and the download will start. Chinese developers were using direct download addresses such as to download Xcode.

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