Growth in China's technology industries declined last year because of the global recession but rates of consumption and sales should rise steadily in two to three years, according to the Ministry of Information Industry. Consumer demand for safer, more advanced computer systems and the quest for firms to beat foreign competitors under World Trade Organisation rules would drive growth, officials said. Efforts to develop western China would also call for more use of technology, a research report said. According to an annual report by the China Centre for Information Industry Development, the number of mobile phone subscribers rose more slowly last year than in 2000, at 70 per cent instead of 97 per cent, to 144.8 million people. This should grow to 405 million users by 2006, but subscriber growth in poor western China was a drag on the market. Communications in China were worth 406.97 billion yuan (about HK$381.37 billion) last year and the figure has grown about the same rate - 25 per cent - for the past two years. The market for hardware, software and computer-support services grew about 16 per cent last year, up from 25 per cent a year earlier and 19 per cent in 1999. It is now worth 250 billion yuan. Personal computer sales were off worldwide last year. The fastest-growing foreign brand in China last year was Dell Computer. The largest slice of the computer hardware market was taken by mainframe systems used in the fast-growing financial and telecommunications sectors, which accounted for 42.6 per cent of sales last year, or 7.3 billion yuan. The growth rate for software consumption dropped from 31 per cent to 24 per cent between 2000 and last year, leaving the total value at 28.5 billion yuan. Sales of scanners and CD writers shrank last year. Officials from the China Centre for Information Industry Development said the growth rate declines should reverse during the next few years. The research centre, affiliated with the Central Government, is seen as a reliable source of big-picture information about technology trends in China. However, some of the information may not be precisely accurate, according to a private Beijing and Hong Kong consulting firm that follows the same industries.