Vodafone to launch browser for low-cost phones in emerging markets


Vodafone teamed up with Opera to produce a browser for low-cost, non-smartphone (dumb?) handsets for use in emerging and developing markets and now it's launching services to use the new capability. By Ian Scales.

Despite the accelerating penetration and plummeting cost of smartphones (they will make up half mobile user base in the US by the end of 2011) they're still unlikely to be widely affordable in emerging markets for a few years yet. And neither is the 3G and 4G infrastructure which, ideally, is required to support them.

That means the high penetration enjoyed by 2G in many markets can't yet be matched by Internet access - a big shame to say the least given the huge economic and social benefits already garnered by the broad availability of voice and SMS. Online access via mobile could provide an even greater boost for these economies.

That's where Vodafone is claiming Opera Mini comes in.

The magic of a mini browser for small screens on dumb phones is not in the browser itself but back in the network where, in this case, Opera servers filter content - taking out the bandwidth-gobbling and, strictly speaking unnecessary, graphics and other superfluous stuff and then compressing what remains to send over the network. The result is up to 90 percent compression, and the result of that is 2G online services (Edge and GPRS) that can be pegged at prices users can afford.

Vodafone says it's worked with the Norwegian company to embed its Opera Mini 5 browser in 20 devices. Opera Mini is also downloadable to over 250 GPRS-supported handsets currently in use on Vodafone's networks and the operator claims it's going to be offering highly-affordable data tariffs to go with the new capability.

The offers are to be rolled out initially in India, South Africa, Turkey, Tanzania and Egypt with other markets expected to follow in the near future.