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Vodafone Brings Mobile Web To Developing Markets With Opera Mini

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While the west has piled on data-hungry smartphone sales in the last couple of years, carriers have been content to treat developing nations as second-class territories, suitable only for low-end voice handsets.

Now Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) is attempting to change that. It says it’s worked with Norwegian browser maker Opera to make a customised version of the Opera Mini mobile browser designed to run on these lesser handsets and their 2G networks in developing markets, initially targeting India, South Africa, Turkey, Tanzania and Egypt.

From the announcement: “Since the Opera Mini 5 browser can compress data by up to 90 percent, it requires less processing power on the handset and uses less network capacity, resulting in a richer internet experience in more challenging conditions.”

Voda says it’s embedding the browser on 20 devices in its line-up; the UI has “step-by-step, simple instructions” and “intuitive icons to help those with lower levels of literacy”. “The move aims to enable as many people as possible to experience the internet for the first time, and to enjoy the social advantages it can bring through the spread of email and commerce-based applications.”

That’s all very well, but isn’t the web going to rack up big charges on tariffs in developing markets? Vodafone says it’s also rolling out “a string of highly affordable data tariffs”.

Opera’s own data centres compress web pages, stripping out elements they deem unsuitable for the mobile experience.