The Digital Agency for International Development

Low Bandwidth Web: Opera Turbo

By tariq on 09 June 2009

Aptivate (then Aidworld) was founded in 2003 by a group of techies and aidworkers wrestling with the question: how can you make the web usable for relief workers in the field?

Opera Turbo in Action

The problem then was access to bandwidth and the cost of that access.

Typical satellite phone connection speeds were 9.6Kbps (think of cold treacle flowing uphill or the state of dial-up in the early 90s) and the cost would be anywhere from $2 to $20 per minute.

5 minutes to download something like made it unusable and $100 for the privilege made it unaffordable.

We came up with loband - a free online service that simplifies web pages. It downloads them remotely, trims them down and  returns them to the user in a lightweight format. It can offer a 5-10x reduction in bandwidth used.

Fast forward 6 years and it's interesting how similar the story is.

Some of us now have  fast desktop & mobile web connectivity, but websites have gotten heavier (the first page I get to on Facebook is 1.25MB...)  and we don't always have access to our quick connections.

The fundamental issue is still there: the web can be slow and expensive if you're not on a fast "unlimited data" connection.

Opera have been doing great things with their mobile browser for some time. They recently introduced the Opera Turbo feature into their desktop edition. The concept is similar to loband but its designed to integrate transparently into the browser.

Opera route all relevant traffic via their servers and return a compressed stream of data to the browser containing the content you want. From the picture above, you can see that they compress graphics to save bandwidth.

One thing I suspect they do (although I haven't checked) is reduce the overall number of requests between the browser and the server. Going back to Facebook - it takes 92 HTTP requests to build my home page. That becomes painful if you're on a low bandwidth, high latency connection. You effectively incur an overhead for each of those 92 requests.

If Opera can turn that into fewer, overall smaller requests - the Norwegians rock even more than I think they already do.

June 10, 2009, 10:24 p.m. - Alan Jackson

Are you going to follow up with a look at Google's new browser, Chrome? It seems really fast.

June 24, 2009, 8:13 p.m. - Tariq Khokhar

Google's also got an interesting set of articles on web speed at:

Jan. 9, 2010, 10:08 p.m. - Ole Dahl Rasmussen

Dear Aptivate, Interesting - I'm a great fan of loband. I wonder if there is a similiar solution for file sharing? In my organization we use MS SharePoint for file sharing, but it has the same problem as Facebook: Its heavy to download. Our need is an intranet, where all 250 people can upload and download files, preferrably froma a folder structure. Do you know of anything like this? Best, Ole

Oct. 9, 2012, 9:46 a.m. - Chris Wilson

Dear Ole Dahl Rasmussen, Yes there is! We've been developing a low bandwidth intranet that is fully open source, which you can find here: Cheers, Chris.