Optus 3G accelerator spawns blurry pics

Summary:Optus yesterday confirmed to ZDNet Australia that technology deployed in late 2008 on its 3G network not only reduces the time to download a website, but also reduces image quality.

Optus yesterday confirmed to ZDNet Australia that technology deployed in late 2008 on its 3G network not only reduces the time to download a website, but also reduces image quality.

The carrier started looking at 3G web accelerators, also known as proxies, midway through 2008, Optus mobile network director Andrew Smith told ZDNet Australia last year. That period had been busy for the carrier, with the company launching its popular iPhone offers.

Optus said at the time that web traffic for all handsets was being routed through the accelerator, achieving a 10 to 50 per cent improvement in downloading web pages.

Earlier this month, however, a small number of customers began to complain on the MacTalk forum that images were being recompressed before they arrived on their phone. The customers said that the pictures didn't look as good as they do on other carriers not using the web accelerator technology.

Below are screenshots of the ZDNet Australia website on Vodafone, Optus and Telstra on the iPhone (left to right).

Screenshots of an iPhone on Vodafone, Optus and Telstra

Screenshots of the ZDNet Australia website as seen on the iPhone via Vodafone (left), Optus (centre) and Telstra (right)
(Credit: Ben Grubb/ZDNet Australia)

Photographer and engineer Josh Marshall of Newcastle told ZDNet Australia that he first noticed what Optus was doing when he was designing his website to work on the iPhone.

"I was working on my website and my images just looked terrible," Marshall said.

"They looked like someone with a $99 point-and-shoot camera had shot them. It took me about an hour to realise that by going to some other websites as well that basically ... Optus is grabbing any image and recompressing it down."

Optus defended the web accelerator technology in a statement to ZDNet Australia yesterday, saying it believed it had been "a great innovation" for its customers and had "improved the quality and speed of our mobile browsing across the network".

The telco said that for "the vast majority" of customers using the iPhone and other devices, the quality of images within a web page was "not unduly affected when viewed in a normal or slightly expanded form"; however, it said that customers who used the iPhone "may find that the resolution of some images will be affected when significantly expanded on their display screen or when viewed on larger screens such as on a laptop".

The company was "reviewing other technology solutions which optimise mobile data transfer for customers who regularly view high resolution images such as those who use their iPhone as a tethered modem for their laptop", the statement said.

Marshall said the image recompression affected him personally on two counts: firstly, because he was "not seeing images as they should be"; and secondly, because when prospective clients using Optus came and looked at his site they weren't getting what he expected them to see.

"And that's something that they're going to blame me for, they're not going to immediately assume Optus is doing that," he said.

Does this affect your ability to browse the web? Or do you see it as an enhancement?

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iPhone, Networking, Telcos

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