Opera Serves Up Proxy for Mobile Browsers
By Eric Lin, Thu Jun 10 05:45:00 GMT 2004

Where once proxy servers were a crutch for obsolescing weak systems, now they appear to be a harbinger of an always connected, flat data tariff future.

Despite the fact that smartphones are now equivalent to the processing power of PCs from less than a decade ago and they are becoming more powerful with every generation, offloading bulky processing from smartphones onto proxy servers is actually growing in popularity. Today Opera has joined the ranks of most other mobile browsers, offering Opera Mobile Accelerator, a proxy that will strip out unnecessary data, compress what's left and pass it on to Opera smartphone browsers for rendering. Opera claims this could more than double surfing speed and reduce users' phone bills enough to more than pay the for the service fees it will charge.

Opera was actually one of the last holdouts to join the proxy camp, now Microsoft's Pocket Explorer is one of the last few remaining in the on-the device rendering camp. While the idea of a mobile proxy was introduced long ago, it wasn't until three years when Handspring's Blazer and Danger's Hiptop browsers made it popular. At the time mobile processors weren't as powerful and choked on HTML pages designed for desktops, so offloading the heavily lifting to a server made sense. Other proxy based browsers for PDA platforms followed as connecting handhelds to mobile data networks became more popular.

Opera's stand alone browser is quite powerful and can reformat desktop web pages, rendering them for the small screens of Symbian smartphones fairly quickly. But reducing the amount of data transferred to the browser solves the only lag Opera can't solve on the device itself- GPRS data speeds. Opera even goes so far as to claim that operators will benefit by offering their subscribers the fastest browsing possible. What will probably please the users but not the operators is that by using a proxy, users will use less data. If carriers charge per kilobyte, they will lose money on each proxy user, since they will use less data than before. However carriers who have switched to unlimited data tariffs will actually benefit from proxies since they won't lose any money and proxy users will be requesting fewer packets.