The number of handset owners turning to Opera for their browsing needs has doubled since September 2009, and the company served up 36.9 billion web pages last month, an increase of 9 percent over the prior month. Clearly, more consumers are using Opera to gain a faster browsing experience while using less bandwidth; Opera says it compresses web pages up to 90 percent before serving them to a handset. By squeezing down the web, Opera today says it saves consumers $27.4 billion in annual data costs. But the numbers don’t add up.
To figure out the data plan cost savings, Opera took the “lowest price-per-MB plan in each of the top 10 countries and created a global average.” That’s a reasonable proxy method: Look at the data costs in a sample population that represents the largest numbers of users to create an average cost per megabyte of data.
Opera knows how much bandwidth it saves through its compression technology and how many pages it served, so the cost of that bandwidth savings is really the only variable. On the surface then, it sounds like a reasonable approach to calculate the annual data cost savings.
Then I looked at the top 10 countries Opera lists as places with the most users of its browser and see that the U.S. is number eight on the list. Given that I just wrote about how the current U.S. mobile broadband market is undergoing some upheaval with a multitude of new networks and plans, I wondered what figure Opera used for data costs in the U.S.
Opera lists the average cost for each of the top 10 countries right in the report, and the U.S. figures are drastically higher than any other country. More importantly, Opera figures the average cost-per-megabyte in the U.S. to be $2 and extrapolates that to a monthly savings of $141 for Opera users in the United States; an amount that’s three to 47 times higher than the savings in the other nine countries.
So who’s paying $2 per megabyte in the U.S.? Expensive data plans for feature phones come to mind and indeed, such devices are the perfect target audience for an Opera browser, because Opera’s software excels at bringing a smartphone-like web experience to feature phones. Here’s the problem, though: Of the top 10 devices that use Opera in the U.S., seven of them are smartphones, says the Opera report. And how many smartphone users are paying $2 per megabyte for their data plans?
The iPhone is the most-used device for Opera in the U.S. (although I still question how many iPhone owners really use it). Until recently, iPhone owners paid $30 for 5 GB of data. But let’s look at the highest data plan option for the iPhone on a cost-per-megabyte basis. That would be AT&T’s new 200 MB plan at $15 per month, for example, working out to 7.5 cents per megabyte, or a small fraction of what Opera is using for its cost savings estimate. This plan has the highest cost for iPhone users because the next step up is 2 GB for $25 or a cost of 1.25 cent per megabyte — an even farther cry from Opera’s $2 figure. Opera’s cost estimates in the other nine countries are all under a dollar a megabyte, so the U.S. price is heavily skewing the potential cost savings upward.
Having used Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, I can vouch for the positive experience Opera browsers bring to mobile devices. In fact, I highly recommend any mobile device owner to take Opera for a spin. But spinning numbers that don’t make sense to promote a product does a disservice to the product, and the user base for it. Opera can and does save on mobile broadband data use and yes, it’s difficult to quantify that savings to operators and consumers. Due to the complexity of the broadband market in various countries, maybe Opera should re-think its approach to show cost savings at a global level.
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