I have a bargain basement data package on my mobile phone that includes a mere 250Mb per month of data. I am sure that my provider would love me to upgrade and the threat of completely outrageous out of package rates does weigh on my mind (would you believe 2c per kb!!!) but 250Mb is really more than adequate for all my small screen Internet needs. A typical half hour browsing blogs and forums during my morning commute to work uses no more than a megabyte or so. While a quarter of a Gb might seem piteous to an Iphone using you-tube junkie it more than suffices for my text heavy web browsing tastes.
At least it did until I discovered tethering. You see my new laptop has built in Blue-tooth and my phone is happy to share the benefits of browsing anywhere to the laptop through the magic of tethering. Except there is a problem. My first 10 minute browsing session via tethering consumed 10Mb of data. A quick back of envelope calculation indicated that I could blow my entire monthly data allowance before the laptop battery ran out. Not good.
I was actually surprised that laptop browsing was so data intensive compared to the phone. Admittedly I was using the freedom of tabbed browsing to consume multiple pages at a time and I was also more inclined to follow through on media rich content links. One less obvious reason though is that I use Opera Mini on my phone and the nice people at Opera offer server side data compression. This means that Opera's servers actually compress the data you are viewing before sending it to your phone which greatly reduces the bandwidth required. There are trade-offs particularly in terms of image quality but for the most part it works.
I wanted to see if something similar (and in particularly something similarly free) was available for a Windows browser and happily it turns out that Opera 10 has a built in "Turbo" mode that does just that. Using it on the Laptop I am getting average compression of about 3 to 1 which will definitely help stretch my meagre data allowance. The degradation in image quality is more noticeable on a laptop screen than on a phone but pages are still very readable. Flash games don't seem to work at all in turbo mode but youtube videos work once you confirm that you want to download them. I suspect that compression is turned off for the duration of the video though. An added bonus is that the compression helps squeeze a bit more speed out of the slow 1Mb/s blue-tooth link to the phone.
Of course if you are concerned about privacy you might not like the idea of Opera getting a peek at everything you do on the web as it goes through their servers but I think it is a worthwhile trade-off.