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Vodafone takes Opera to the masses

Even poor people want mobile internet

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Vodafone has been working with Opera to customise Opera Mini for use on its networks in the developing world, pushing the mobile internet to those unfamiliar with the fixed alternative.

The project will roll out in India, South Africa, Turkey, Tanzania and Egypt, and involves providing the Java-based Opera Mini along with customised home pages in local languages. The plan is to to walk the user through a browsing experience which may be their first exposure to the worldwide network the rest of us increasingly take for granted.

"With this product, we can transform even basic handsets into very capable internet browsing devices, enabling millions of people to enjoy the social and economic aspects of the internet" says the canned statement from Vodafone's Head of Emerging Markets, painting the move as a benefit to humanity rather than of any particular commercial interest.

Vodafone is making much of Opera Mini's ability to compress pages on a server before delivery, though that's hardly something new to this project. Opera launched "Opera Turbo" about a year ago and it does indeed speed up browsing, though for many people the web doesn't need to be instantaneous - Apple's iPhone wasn't 3G at launch, and still did OK.

But Vodafone is aiming this service at much lower-end handsets. With Opera's help, and a load of online guidance, the company hopes to transform millions of voice and text customers into consumers of mobile data.

Many communities have been revolutionised by the arrival of voice telephony, and it's possible to imagine that mobile data will have a similar impact, if Vodafone can make a few quid out of it then that's no bad thing though we do wonder how Opera's advertising-based revenue model will fare. ®

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