Honey, I Shrunk the Mobile Data Use!

The move away from unlimited mobile broadband could be frustrating for consumers, but it’s opening up new opportunities for startups. One of these, Onavo, launched last month, and claims to help iOS users reduce the amount of monthly bandwidth on their 3G-enabled iPhones and iPads(s aapl). The Onavo application and service are free in the iTunes App Store for now, but the company plans to charge for premium services in the future, saying that any costs will be more than offset by the savings from using less mobile data.

Using Onavo is simple because the software runs in the background and behaves much like a proxy server.  The company compresses as much data as possible through a cloud-based solution it runs on Amazon(s amzn) Web Services. That means all the 3G data on your iPhone or iPad is run through Onavo’s service before it arrives from your carrier. It also means the company has access to all of your data via its cloud compression. However, the company only stores a minimum amount of data in order to provide personalized bandwidth savings reports and aggregated anonymous statistics. Any encrypted data will stay encrypted, and Onavo won’t be able to read it.

Clearly, folks that don’t want anyone other than a carrier snooping around their mobile broadband activities won’t be interested in Onavo’s solution. But there are other popular software solutions that are very similar. Opera’s Mini and Mobile web browsers offer the same type of data compression, although they’re limited only to browsing. And using a compression service could allow some to drop down to a lower monthly data plan or reduce monthly data overages.

If nothing else, the free app provides a nice breakdown of how much data each application is using, which can be a helpful datapoint. With some mobile apps eating through 115 MB per hour, it’s important to be aware of an app’s mobile broadband appetite. Onavo is already helping with “data diets,” reporting that since its launch on April 29 through May 17, it has saved smartphone and tablet owners more than 500,000 MB of mobile broadband data.

There are certainly other bandwidth monitoring apps that can track such data savings at the individual device level, but Onavo adds the benefit and option of reducing bandwidth on top of that, making it a bit a of a double-threat for iOS device owners on a limited plan. My kids fall into that category, so I’ll be installing Onavo on their iPhones as soon as I can. They often get close to their monthly data limit, and this should provide cheap insurance against future overages.