Opera partners telcos to topple brand vendors

Norwegian browser maker aims to bring mobile Web to wider user base by partnering telcos, with hopes of toppling dominant app ecosystem operators Apple and Google in the process, says CEO.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor on

Opera Software is looking beyond the browser arena, in which it made its name, to strategically partner telcos in both the emerging and developed markets that are keen to wrest back control from dominant app ecosystem operators, its CEO revealed.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Lars Boilesen said the browser maker is focusing on partnering operators such as AT&T in the U.S., KDDI in Japan, SK Telecom in South Korea, and Telenor in the Nordic countries to extend its consumer reach and bring the mobile Web and applications to more people.

Its emerging market telco partners include Russia's Mobile Telesystems OJSC, Indonesia's Telekomunikasi Selular PT and Tata Communications in India, a Bloomberg report stated.

He explained that these telcos had signed on with Opera because bandwidth "has always been a problem", regardless of whether they operate in a developing or developed market.

"As more devices get online, operators and OEMs will face challenges in delivering a stable, fast Internet performance, while consumers will be expecting their Web experience to be the same as they have on their desktop PCs," the CEO added.

Furthermore, as Web traffic and revenues "decouple", mobile operators are realizing that mobile broadband will not be able to handle the capital expenditure requirements for next-generation networks to support today's Web traffic demands, Boilesen noted.

Recognizing these trends, Opera is offering its cross-platform Opera Turbo technology to help operators and OEMs enable sustainable, scalable networks as well as a high-quality Web-browsing experience for consumer, he revealed.

Opera Turbo makes Internet access possible for any Web-enabled device running its desktop, mobile and other Opera Devices SDK browsers. It does this by compressing Web traffic by up to 80 percent before delivering Web content to handsets. This maximizes network resources and reduces data transmission, the company's Web site stated.

Telcos will win brand manufacturers
Boilesen noted that its telco partners are not content with being relegated to mere "dumb pipe operators" by brand operators such as Google and Apple. The telcos' partnership with Opera shows their commitment to getting more involved in the application development space, he added.

Today, smartphones reportedly take up about 20 percent of the total mobile phone market. Within this 20 percent, there are other companies besides Apple and Google, such as Research In Motion, Nokia, Microsoft, LG Electronics and Samsung, which are creating end-to-end ecosystems by linking their devices to the services they offer, the CEO stated.

But telcos and OEMs can target the remaining market by pre-loading Opera's software into various handsets, whether this be smartphones or feature phones, Boilesen said.

"[The carriers] want their services to be seen among all kinds of devices, from high-end smartphones and feature phones to 3G dongles," he said.

In the Bloomberg report, the CEO revealed the thinking behind the company's telco partnership thrust: "There's a battle going on between the brand manufacturers [such as Apple and Google] and the operators, and we may be betting a little more on the operators."

In terms of deployment, the CEO cited the example of Ericsson, which earlier this year selected Opera to help deliver an app store called the Ericsson eStore. This eStore allowed Ericsson to provide a branded app store to its subscribers. In turn, the company was able to better target new user groups and retain existing customers through new, useful applications that could run on multiple devices, the executive noted.

When asked if other browser makers such as the Mozilla Foundation would follow Opera's footsteps in offering a service platform to run apps on less-capable feature phones, Boilesen did not reply directly. Instead, he pointed out that making a browser "is not easy" and to build a new browser from scratch would be too tedious.

Most browsers today are developed on top of the cores that were developed years ago, the executive added.

"Opera has been in the browser industry for 15 years based on the cores it had developed," he noted. "One of the biggest advantages we have is that the Opera browser has a small footprint and is cross-platform and device-agnostic. Therefore, it can easily fit into various connected devices from VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phones, e-readers, game consoles, personal navigation systems, etc."

Can Opera survive the competition?
That said, an analyst questioned whether Opera could survive the onslaught from dominant mobile players once countries have improved bandwidth and smartphones.

Andre Adolfsen, an analyst at Nordea Markets, told Bloomberg that while Opera browsers can be used with higher-end smartphones, its edge comes from working on basic handsets, which account for a majority of the emerging market devices.

"They seem to be the best choice for low-bandwidth countries," he said. "When improved bandwidth and smartphones penetrate these markets, I believe Opera will struggle to compete with major OEMs such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and maybe Nokia."

However, Boilesen said that people who are used to the speed of what Opera can offer will continue looking for products that give them a similar Internet browsing experience across phones and devices.

"Opera's interface is very intuitive, easy and convenient to use. I believe we have strong product offerings that make users want to continue using Opera browsers," he stated.

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