The Fascinating Opera Browser, Becoming Africa’s Internet

The Fascinating Opera Browser, Becoming Africa’s Internet

I do not use Opera because my Android smartphone is registered to my Gmail account. Google would not allow me to do YouTube upload, buy Android Play apps, etc without that Gmail account. That is fine, though in the past, it was not necessary to register with only a Gmail account. Since I linked the phone and the Gmail, it has been largely permanent. So, Chrome is my default mobile browser. I like the personalization that comes through recorded search: Google learns more about me when I search through logged account than otherwise. It also helps me in managing my passwords and bookmarks, from one device to the other,

Yet, six months ago in Nigeria, I installed Opera. I wanted to test the mobile browser, after reading about it. Interestingly, Opera does not get a lot of airtime in Western media because its products are largely not used in the Western world. Opera is built for emerging region like Africa where Internet access is metered and people take drastic actions to reduce waste of precious browsing minutes.

Opera develops and sells web browsers for the desktop, device, and mobile markets worldwide. It enables over 350 million internet consumers to discover and connect with the content and services that matter to them. It helps advertisers reach the audiences that build value for their businesses.

Opera also delivers products and services to more than 120 operators around the world, enabling them to provide a faster, more economical, and better network experience to their subscribers. It was launched in 1995 and is based in Oslo, Norway.

After using the browser, I can write that Opera is delivering value to its users. It blocks all JavaScript-advertisements by default making it impossible for you to see any advert in any site you visit. In Africa where Internet is still used for consumption, as people cannot practically do any useful work on metered Internet, blocking ads is a good strategy: watching ads is expensive, irrespective of how engaging it could be. In short, even when you are not watching, just having the ad images load when visiting websites costs you precious broadband minutes. So, making sure that no ad goes through makes Opera delightful to users. It has more than 100 million of such users in Africa.  Watching ad costs data in Africa; in the Western world, it is largely a nuisance, and that explains why Opera and Google Chrome are different.

Opera (source: WSJ)

Unless you use metered Internet you will not understand the mission of Opera. Simply, it saves users data costs through many strategies. Since I installed it, I have noticed that when in Nigeria, the browser could help the browsing hours go further, especially when I am in an area where the problem is not the money but finding where to reload 9Mobile data. They have made real efforts, using their AI systems, to reduce costs of browsing: “Opera users in Africa will get fully personalised and localised content delivered to their browser, the entry point for their internet experience while the data usage can be reduced up to 90%”. It may not be 90%, but it is significant reduction..

The Africa’s Internet

Opera wants to become the Internet for Africa with its bold vision of doing many things in its browser: media publishing, content aggregation, and financial services. It plans to invest $100 million to deepen those services by turning Opera into an ecosystem of apps where many things can happen, at browser level.

Opera, the developer of the most popular mobile browser in Africa, … announced its plan to invest $100 million USD (30 billion Nigerian nairas) over the next two years to facilitate the growth of African digital economy. The company will use the investment to speed up internet adoption in Africa and strengthen the internet ecosystem with local partners.

Africa is on its way to transform itself into digital continent with the rapid adoption of mobile internet. For the past five years, the Opera Mini browser has been a key facilitator in bringing more than half of Africa’s internet population online by featuring tools for lowering data costs. Recently, the company celebrated 100 million monthly users in Africa and is now focusing on making the next generation of web browsers to cater the needs of African internet users.

[…]

“We aim to invest heavily in Africa, to build a local platform and grow with the local business partners. This platform will expand the user base for content providers, e-commerce businesses, operators, OEM’s and others to strengthen the African internet ecosystem.”

If you read that press release carefully, you will see that Opera wants to build solutions which can help content providers, e-commerce businesses, OEMs and other ecosystem participants. The implication is that it wants to abstract away many things we do online (i.e. on websites) like payments and move them into its browser. Imagine a scenario where your browser becomes your payment platform. In other words, the Opera browser offers a payment layer to enable payment. In other words, all that you do via PayPal, Paystack and Flutterwave can be executed right on the browser with no need of going further into the web.
I do not think that antitrust busters will allow Google to do that on Chrome. But I do know that Opera is out of the global radar, being small, and can offer those services. This means that Opera can become the “internet for Africa” as its ecosystems will offer many services you will expect on the web, without leaving it. Since I installed it, I like to read headlines news from the browser even when outside Africa. I do not even have to visit any website, because Opera delivers all at its browser level.

The Industry Dislocation

Opera’s strategy is brilliant for the firm, but it will put it in the crosshairs of many local companies. As more Africans use Opera, most local companies can experience erosion in their brands. Yet, it is also possible that Opera can move in the path of aggregation where it can make it easier to find leading payment, ecommerce and other partners through its browser. But no matter what happens, I do expect massive dislocation as Opera becomes a platform with commercial activities happening at the level of browser. It will be very interesting: Opera needs a business model to make money.

[This section is updated] Opera does need that because it has to pay bills. Chrome supports Google’s advertising business. Opera [browser business in Africa] does not believe in ads via the JavaScript but runs content advertisements. It needs to find a way to monetize that browser business [it could be already making money, in Africa, depending on agreements with partners it shows their contents on its homepage], and having an ecosystem is one of the paths. It hosts contents, aggregates contents and certainly has the pieces to make money. It runs some adverts for banks, but those are content adverts different from the typical JavaScript ads like the ones you see via Google AdSence. Once you exit Opera homepage, it blocks all other ads for products like Opera Mini. In other words, it prevents you from seeing ads outside the contents ads it is showing on its homepage.

All Together

Opera is evolving as a platform with capabilities to abstract away most internet services at the level of its browser. That is a solid business model, and that is exciting. My thinking is that Opera will increasingly make it easier for the bulk of its customer base to do more on its platform, thereby saving them more money in visiting the main Internet. Technically, your Internet can end in Opera because it will allow you do most things there. Simply, Opera is transmuting as an aggregator.

With its plan of investing $100 million in Africa, mainly in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria, watch out for services that will unlock new levels of experiences and engagements for the users of Opera. Those services will be personalized and customized. And using them while saving broadband costs will ensure Opera stays relevant in Africa. Then, in 2022, Google or Apple will buy Opera.

Google will like it to disappear to avoid loss of revenue through advertising. The 350 million users of Opera who do not watch adverts are not good friends to Google. For Apple, it needs new users for services like shows and movies it plans to unveil. Those services will need a developing region appeal to be profitable. I do think Opera will be acquired within five years.


---Visit our Store for my books, cases, frameworks and more. Now, enjoy our consolidated subscription for all contents (past, present and future).
-- We offer Advisory Services (tech, strategy & Africa).

Share this post

One thought on “The Fascinating Opera Browser, Becoming Africa’s Internet

  1. I am sure that they will create their mark in Africa also like America. I am using Opera browser from a long time. and I am very much satisfied with it.

    Reply

Leave a Reply