Opera has just put a free VPN feature in its browser, and users get unlimited data usage.
The VPN function will be available within its desktop browser with a simple flick of a toggle switch — making it one of the first mainstream browser makers to offer this.
After users flip the VPN on, they’ll be allowed to change the country that they are displaying to websites, and the browser will show other information like how much data has gone through its VPN servers. Opera doesn’t require a sign-in to toggle the feature.
Similar to features found in paid services, Opera’s VPN offers a pretty respectable 256-bit encryption level, and will allow users to hide their IP addresses, and access blocked sites.
For now, the function is available only in its developer version of the desktop browser, and not in Opera’s other versions like mobile. Users will also only be able to choose between the U.S., Canada and Germany as spoofed locations.
Eventually, Opera is expected to make the feature broadly available in future stable versions of its desktop browser.
The VPN functionality is largely thanks to Opera’s Mar. 2015 acquisition of SurfEasy, which until now had offered its VPN client as a freemium Opera extension — offering a free tier of service, and charging if the user consumes more data.
VPN makes sense for Opera’s emerging market strategy
Although it’s respected as a major browser maker, the Oslo-based company has been steadily slipping in market share over the years. Compared with Google Chrome, which is way at the top with 60% worldwide as of Feb. 2016 according to StatCounter, Opera has a piddling 2%, putting it at the bottom of the major browsers, behind Apple Safari, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox, in ascending order.
In part, that’s because the third party browser isn’t a default operating system browser, like Safari or Internet Explorer, nor is it tied to a popular ecosystem of services like Google’s.
So it makes sense that Opera’s strategy appears to be targeting emerging markets, where the fastest growing base resides.
For example, Opera’s smartphone browser, Opera Mini, is mainly marketed with its page-compression ability, which go through Opera’s servers first to be squeezed smaller by up to a claimed 90% before going to the user’s phone. This is especially appealing in emerging markets, where lower end phones may struggle with a heavier site, and smaller data bundles require users to be stingier with their browsing.
Opera later offered the same compression feature, branded Opera Turbo, in its desktop browser.
This move to offer VPN may be different from its usual compression spiel, but it’s in line with a play for the emerging markets. In many rapidly growing markets in Asia, state censorship and nationwide firewalls pose a challenge to users.
Krystian Kolondra, Opera’s senior vice president, told Mashable that out of the company’s estimated 350 million users, its biggest market is India at 50 million users, followed by 30 million in Indonesia and 27 million in Russia. It also counts “tens of millions” of monthly active users in China, he said.
The VPN software should come handy especially in some of these territories. Indonesia, for one, has moved to issue blanket bans on sites it deems unsavoury — Tumblr was a recent casualty. China’s Great Firewall famously blocks a running list of big media sites like Google and its properties such as YouTube; Facebook and Instagram; and most recently Medium.
Kolondra said: “We believe VPN is going to be a must-have feature for browsers going forward. Opera VPN is free, and at this point we are not planning to change that in the near future.”
Opera makes most of its money from its mobile ad network, Opera Mediaworks.