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Lessening the Pain of Data Roaming With Onavo

"2008" Brussels Remembers 1958

Image by fatboyke (Luc) via Flickr

I am in the Belgian city of Brussels at the moment, which means that my mobile phone is ‘roaming;’ off my UK network and being charged a scary amount of money to access data. Travelling to Europe is less scary than going elsewhere in the world, as I’m ‘only’ charged about £3 per Mb here. That’s half what I’d be charged to use data in the United States, but is still an obscene amount of money for my mobile phone company to be extracting from me.

There are plenty of excuses made about termination fees and cross-border this, and intra-jurisdictional that, but at the end of the day a very small number of large telcos are getting away with what is essentially a scam. Much of the time, I’m actually connected to the local network of my own mobile phone company, rendering many of their excuses even more pathetically irrelevant than they might otherwise be.

Still, this post isn’t meant to be a complaint about mobile phone companies. I have every faith in the European Commission, and its power to bring more pressure to bear in reducing those charges. I just wish they’d get on with it.

What this post was meant to be was a complimentary post about a new startup that’s attempting to do something about this. And there’s a cloud connection, too.

Enter Onavo, a startup that uses a small app (iPhone only, for now) to reduce the amount of data you consume when roaming; thereby lowering the size of the bill your mobile phone company sends you. The company claims reductions in data consumption of “up to 80%” in optimal circumstances. I’m not seeing that big a saving, but mine is still significant.

Basically, when you turn Onavo on for a trip and start roaming, the company’s servers step in and start compressing images etc before they are delivered to a mobile carrier and — via the mobile carrier — to your phone. Compressed content means smaller content, which means less bandwidth used, which means smaller bills for me. Should you happen to find affordable wifi, Onavo gets out of the way and the uncompressed content again becomes available to you.

If you’re going to be travelling, have an iPhone, and want to give it a try, the company has given me some invite codes to share. Simply visit www.onavo.com/codata using Safari on your iPhone, and the first 100 will get into the beta programme. It’s working well for me, and might for you too.

Onavo is not paying for this post; they let me into the beta programme, I found it useful, and now I’m telling you that I did.

And the Cloud connection? Onavo’s co-founder is Guy Rosen; he of the Jack of All Clouds blog, and those invaluable State of the Cloud graphs. Speaking of which – aren’t we due another one, Guy?

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More Stories By Paul Miller

Paul Miller works at the interface between the worlds of Cloud Computing and the Semantic Web, providing the insights that enable you to exploit the next wave as we approach the World Wide Database.

He blogs at www.cloudofdata.com.