FRANKFURT (Reuters) - Norway's Opera, whose browser software has helped mobile operators sign up millions of users for free or low-cost Internet access, said on Tuesday it was introducing features that let operators offer subscribers free access to selected apps.
For several years, Opera has been offering users of its Opera Mini browser access to free data on most mobile phones. This meant users could get access to an hour or a day of free time on Facebook or music on Spotify.
What's different with the new feature, called Opera Max with App Pass, is that it is no longer confined solely to Opera browser users. Instead, App Pass works with any browser or mobile app a user may choose to use. The service is only available on Android smartphones for now.
In addition, many of the top handset makers in emerging markets have agreed to pre-load the Opera Max free data feature on their latest phone models, Opera said.
These include Samsung Electronics, Micromax, Mobistel, Evercoss, and Tecno, it said.
"We really believe we can drive millions and millions of users through these pre-loaded deals," Opera Chief Executive Lars Boilesen said in a phone interview.
European and Asian operator Telenor will be the first partner with Opera and launch Opera Max with App Pass, testing it in some of the company’s Asian markets, starting with DiGi, Malaysia's No. 3 operator, Opera said.
Opera Max software takes advantage of the company's video and data compression technologies, which enable more than 20 mobile network operators mainly in emerging markets to offer subsidized App passes to their subscribers.
Opera, maker of a Web browser that is popular among mobile phone users in developing markets, also said the new App Pass feature would soon allow advertisers to offer phone users sponsored or paid passes for using mobile Web apps.
"A lot of advertising brands are looking do something for users rather than just sell ads," Boilesen said. "We basically allow brands to offer free data plans."
Consumers can use Opera Max to manage their data consumption on the Web and inside apps, helping to conserve 50 percent of the data they might otherwise use, the company said.
Because App Pass no longer requires that users be running in the Opera browser, the company sees the new feature as appealing to operators in developed markets as well, who are now free to offer it to all their users, Boilesen said.
(Reporting by Eric Auchard; Editing by Harro ten Wolde and Mark Potter)