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Opera Banks on Video Compression to Survive Next Round of Browser Wars

The new feature taps technology from the company's 2013 acquisition of SkyFire.

In an era where the browser wars are dominated by the companies making their own operating systems and devices, Norway’s Opera has managed to hang in there.

“We do not have our own operating system; we do not have our own phones,” Opera CEO Lars Boilesen said in an interview. “We have been really systematic.”

Opera’s latest approach is to extend one of its longtime strengths — shrinking mobile bills by reducing the amount of data being used — and applying that to video. The company plans to make video compression a hallmark feature, adding it over the next three months to various versions of its software, including for Android and iPhone.

“We are the kings of compression even though the big guys try to come after us,” Boilesen said. “Video is booming.”

Opera, which struggled to gain share on the desktop, nabbed an early lead in mobile by becoming the browser of choice on feature phones. It extended that through server technologies that shrank the amount of photo and other data to match the phone’s small screen — easing congestion and cutting costs for consumers.

Smartphones, with their powerful built-in browsers, have made life tougher for Opera, but the company has managed to stay strong in emerging markets where it is a powerful Internet brand.

Of the company’s 280 million monthly users, 130 million come from smartphones. For example, it has 40 million users in India, is the browser of choice in Russia and is a significant player in Indonesia, South Africa and many other spots.

Opera has managed to parlay its strengths in those places into a product called Opera Web Pass, where mobile carriers don’t sell customers a monthly data plan, but instead sell a certain amount of use of the Web (or a specific service, such as Facebook or Spotify) using Opera as the measurement entity.

Another product, Opera Coast, is a new kind of browser for iPhone and iPad that treats Web pages more like apps. Boilesen joked that the company locked a dozen engineers in a room for 10 months with plenty of pizza and loud music and Coast was the result.

Opera also runs an app store as part of a fast-growing business driven by mobile advertising.

Boilesen says the company knows it has to keep moving fast or it will get run over.

“We get no help from anyone we are competing with — Apple, Google, the big guys,” Boilesen said. “We have to offer something unique.”

While Opera relies on in-house development for most of its technology, much of the video compression technology came from the company’s purchase last year of SkyFire, a deal that cost Opera as much as $150 million.

“It’s been a great acquisition for us,” Boilesen said.

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