Opera VP Richard Monday tells Memeburn why its mobile browser is still so important for Africa

Before the advent of smartphones, and long before iOS got popular in Africa, Africans were using their mobile devices to browse the web. In the early days of mobile internet, surfing the web on mobile devices wasn’t something everyone could afford hence the deployment of various tools and mobile internet tricks and tweaks aimed at lowering costs and browsing faster. The most popular one is the Opera Mini browser.

Even though many Nigerians don’t know the science behind how the Opera browser works, they know using it makes browsing the internet more affordable which is why they gladly share the gospel according to Opera to family and friends seeking cheaper ways to browse. This, according to Richard Monday, Vice President (Africa) at Opera software, is the reason why Opera is attracting more people to come online; it is also the reason why Opera Mini browser continues to be the browser of choice of many internet users across Nigeria, Africa and the world in general.

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Monday spoke to Memeburn in Lagos, Nigeria about why the browser remains so popular, what internet browsing means in people’s daily lives, and brands paying for people to get online.

Why Opera is still very popular

According to Monday, Opera Mini’s popularity comes down to the faster experience.

“People value speed,” he told us. “If I’m on a 2G network, I want a quick internet speed – not the page loading per byte, I just want the page to come. It is quicker on Opera because of the compression. We have a very thin client on the phone, all the work is done on the server – it’s the server that does all the compression, transcoding, rendering, size fitting and sends the picture to the phone. So all the work is done on the server and we’ve got server firms all over the world. We compressed US$2 billion worth of data last year in Africa.

“It’s in our interest for more people to be on the internet – the more people that are on the internet, the more money people have, and the more educated they are,” he said.

Monday describes internet as empowering, while explaining that Opera Software’s major focus is on data compression:

“For every 10MB you download you only pay for one. We’ve always done that. Now we are introducing video into Opera Mini so that you can watch video on your phone but it is compressed. Even when the network is not great, it will still work”.

With the falling cost of smartphones on the continent though, Monday says the company is well aware of the fact that it can’t just rely on a single mobile browser:

“We are also doing a lot of stuff with smartphones now with Opera Max — which is just starting now and we will have a year or two before we can scale on that. We are doing a lot of other little things – we are working with Nokia on Nokia Math for kids via their parents’ phones.”

Opera mini and people’s daily lives

Even though browsing means different things to different people, Monday said for many, deciding to browse is just like any other decision they make daily.

“People have lots of decisions to make in their daily lives,” he told Memeburn. “First decision – how much money do I have for food? How much money have I got for my kids to go to school? Have I got sufficient money to get to work and back? Another decision is have I got money to spend on my mobile phone?”

Monday believes that many people don’t put NGN1 000 on their mobile phones, instead, he said many can only spare NGN20. And maybe they do it five to six times a day.

Even those people are a fair bit ahead of another group Monday describes, who’ve “never used the internet because they don’t know what a megabyte is and they don’t know how to use the internet”.

These people, he points out “are made to buy 10MB for US$1. This is a very complex thing if you’ve never done it before.”

Bringing clarity to internet pricing
Monday believes much more clarity and user tailor-made options could help bring more people online and generate more revenues for the telecoms companies:

“If I come to you and say ‘look it is Friday night, you may want to chat with your friends. I will give you one hour of Whatsapp for NGN3. You then think ‘one hour for NGN3? I know what I’m getting. I’m going to buy this one; I’m going to buy that one’,” Monday noted.

The Opera software Vice President also observed that there are more people in Nigeria for instance, who have 3 or 4 Naira to spend but they don’t have NGN100.

“If you’ve got 10 million people who spend 3 naira, you’ve got NGN30 million and 10 million new people using the internet,” Monday told us. “This is a much more understandable, comprehensive and affordable way of selling the internet. You can have dynamic pricing on different days – Friday nights, 2am on a Sunday morning. Operators can do things such as buy one hour get one hour free. These are supported on the web pass platform”.

Involvement of brands in internet provision
Monday believes that apart from reconsidering the current internet pricing models being offered by telecos, corporate brands can also pay for people to get on the internet since it is in the brand’s interest.

He used Coca-Cola’s recent campaign in Brazil as a case study:

“Coca-Cola wants people to buy more Coke and the best way to do that is to encourage people to make more money. They can do that through education –and they need to take a long-term view. It’s in their interest to educate people and give them internet access. The company did a very good campaign in Brazil; they called it Coca-Cola WiFi Brazil.

“They went to universities and developed a Coca-Cola-branded browser. They asked people between age 15 and 21 what will make them happy and they said it is internet connection. Since Coca-Cola’s slogan is to make people happy, this age group said they will be happy when they have internet access. So Coca-Cola put up a Coke bottle with WiFi hotspot so when the students brought the browser near the Coke bottle they got free 10MB. The students fell in love with Coke and are still enjoying Coca-Cola.”

Opera versus Android

Opera came before Android. But with the emergence of Android operating system (OS), a good number of Android smartphone users are using the OS’ default browser even though they have Opera browser installed (usually pre-installed) on their smartphones. But Monday disagrees that Android is posing a significant threat to Opera. He used Nigerian market as an example.

Around 2011, Nigeria was the company’s fifth largest market. But with the increase in the number of smartphones, there was a rise in the number of Opera browser users in the country, making it the company’s third largest market.

According to Monday, 50% of Opera Mini’s active users around the globe are Android users. In Nigeria, 25% of active users of those 21-million are Android users. “This is bigger than the average penetration of Android phones in Nigeria,” he points out. “The average Android penetration in Nigeria is 20%, on Opera Mini it is 25%. We are ahead of the curve compared to Android.”

“More people are now using Opera browser than before we had Android devices. This is simply because more people are using smartphones including Android devices.”

Opera’s business in Nigeria

Even though the company does not have an office in Nigeria yet (Monday said plans are underway already), Opera is making lots of money in the country through various avenues including developing co-branded browsers for telecoms companies. So far, the company has done this for three out of the four major networks operating in the country.

“We have co-brand arrangements with three telecoms companies in Nigeria – Etisalat, Airtel and MTN,” Monday told us. “They pay us. When you look at this phone (my Samsung Galaxy K Zoom) I can’t even say which network you’re on. Where on your phone does it say MTN? When you go to Facebook does it say Facebook MTN or Google MTN when you visit Google? No. But when you go to Opera Mini it says MTN. It is the only place where operators get branding and presence on a subscriber’s handset.

“The speed dials we have on Opera Mini drive lots of services for an operator. People get to go to MTN Play with just one click. These are some of the reasons why operators cobrand Opera Mini browser.”

Monday also revealed the company is allowing companies operating in Nigeria to advertise on Opera browser’s home page. The minimum cost is US$100 000 for about a month for Nigeria-targeted advertising. A look at the browser’s homepage over a period of time revealed about 10 Nigerian companies are using the homepage for advertising which means Opera is making about US$1 million every month from the homepage alone.

The future of Opera in an ever-changing world

Even though Opera is making lots of money presently, a future where broadband penetration is very high and internet users don’t have to worry about the cost of internet access could pose a significant threat to Opera software. But for now, Monday said Opera will continue to play in feature phone market because the feature phone market isn’t going anywhere. He believes Opera will also continue to innovate in the Android market.

“We are getting more and more preinstall deals with phone manufacturers, about 300 OEMs in China,” he said. “I don’t think feature phone is going away, Android will grow eventually. But today, what I heard is Tecno is selling 5 million phones a month in Nigeria that don’t even do the internet – they only do voice and text.

“There is a long way to go because those people are going to graduate to feature phones, then they will graduate to Android and everything is going to be passed down. I think what we will see is an increase in the percentage of Android users and I think we will continue to see an increase in the number of feature phone users.”

According to Monday, the company’s ultimate goal is to get the 80% of people not online using the internet.

He added that the world still has a long way to go in making it unnecessary for people to worry about the cost of internet.

“Let me give you an example. When I left England four years ago, I could buy an iPhone with 2 000 texts and unlimited data for £50 a month. Two years later, you can’t buy that simply because they can’t afford to offer unlimited data. The operators have a problem. I’ll give you an example of the problem. In America when Vine launched, within 12 weeks of Vine launching it accounted for more video traffic on the Verizon network than YouTube. What happens if 6 of those services launch? The network can’t cope. That’s on a 4G network in America. We’re not even there yet in Africa; we’ve got a long way to go.

“The reason you are carrying two to three SIM cards about in Africa is because you don’t know which network is going to crash – and when,” he said. “That’s the reality and that’s not changing anytime soon. But yes it will eventually change because everything changes eventually.”

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