Virgin Mobile US to Bundle Opera Mini

Opera and Virgin Logos

At CTIA, Opera Software and Virgin Mobile USA (VM) announced a deal where the operator will bundle Opera Mini with future handsets.  In the US, Virgin Mobile is a join venture between Richard Branson’s  Virgin Group and Sprint/Nextel.

Starting April 14th, users of eight current Virgin Mobile phones will be able to download Opera Mini 4.2 for free from the VirginXL on-deck app store.  Although eight phones are said to be supported, Virgin has only named four; the Samsung M310 Slash, UTStarcom CDM-8074 Arc, PCD CDM-8964 Shuttle, and UTStarcom CDM-1450 Super Slice

If you are a VM customer and can’t wait, users on Howard Forums have been reporting that they have been able to download Opera Mini simply by visiting with the phone’s built in browser.  This has been confirmed as working on the Slash, Kyocera M1000 Wild Card and LG LX-160 Flare.  Virgin has traditionally blocked all off deck downloads and that still seems to be the case except for Opera Mini.

The deal with Virgin should be a great win for Opera.   Mini’s a runaway success in most markets but hasn’t really caught on in the US, mostly because none of the BREW based CDMA networks (Verizon, Alltel, US Cellular) offer it and T-Mobile’s cripples the firmware on their branded handsets to  block third party apps from accessing the network.  Even on AT&T and Sprint certain Opera Mini functions like uploading and downloading  files and saving pages for offline access are blocked by the operators.  Virgin is a sizable (6 million subs) youth oriented operator.  I can see Opera Mini generating considerable buzz among the Virgin Mobile demographic.

The one thing that might kill it is Virgin’s rather greedy data pricing. To use Opera you must purchase a monthly data package. There is no unlimited option, prepaid users have a choice of 5MB for $5, 20MB for $10 or 50MB for $20.  Customers on Virgin’s hybrid monthly plans which start at $30 get 20MB for $5 or 50MB for $10.  That’s rather expensive.  50 MB represents about 30 hours of web surfing using Opera Mini or an hour a day for a month.  The other US prepaid carriers that offer data tend to be cheaper; Verizon’s unlimited data is $1 a day (charged only on days used), AT&T gives you 100MB for $20, Boost has unlimited for $10.50/month, STI’s so-called “unlimited” is 30 cents a day but is capped at 12MB/week.  Even the best of these are expensive in comparison with most European and Asian operators.  In my opinion, charging more than $15/month for unlimited data on the sort of basic feature phones that Virgin sells is pure highway robbery.

I rather doubt that Virgin will allow downloading files with Opera Mini either.  That would have a negative effect on lucrative VirginXL ringtone, wallpaper and game sales. Virgin is actually the worst US operator when it comes to locking and crippling handsets.  It’s virtually impossible to tether any VM phone or download from off-portal sites.  If you want a game or tone you have no choice but to purchase from Virgin’s walled garden.