British mobile telecoms group Vodafone said it will launch the Opera Mini browser on low-cost handsets so its millions of users in emerging markets can easily access the Internet, lifting Opera's shares.
Vodafone said on Wednesday it had worked with Opera to develop an enhanced version of its Opera Mini 5, which gives Internet access to lower and mid-tier handsets connected to the more basic second generation, or 2G, networks.
Oslo-listed Opera's shares rose 7 percent after the statement. Vodafone shares, which fell on Tuesday after U.S. wireless venture partner Verizon said it saw little benefit in a merger with Vodafone, were down another 1.1 percent by 0950 GMT.
Wireless operators are eager to increase revenue from Internet browsing and the social network boom, as revenue from traditional voice calls falls in saturated mature markets with strong competition.
With this product, we can transform even basic handsets into very capable Internet browsing devices, enabling millions of people to enjoy the social and economic aspects of the Internet that many already take for granted, said Jonathan Bill, Vodafone Internet Services head of Emerging Markets.
Opera's mobile browser compresses data, saving network bandwidth and processing power.
A range of Vodafone applications, which provide content, news updates and games, is also in development.
Vodafone said the apps would be designed to deliver the most social benefits to users, such as providing email, finding a job and buying and selling services.
The initiative is being rolled out in India, South Africa, Turkey, Tanzania and Egypt to start with, with other markets expected to follow in the near future.
Vodafone has made mobile data one of its strategic priorities. It faces difficult conditions in India -- a key market where a price war has broken out -- and in Turkey.
Vodafone said in February its group data revenue exceeded 1 billion pounds ($1.52 billion) in the final quarter of 2009, up 17.7 percent year-on-year, due to the strong take up of smartphones across Europe.
Opera Chief Executive Lars Boilesen said working with Vodafone would give it the opportunity to help bridge the digital divide for millions of customers.
The Opera Mini 5 browser has been embedded in a range of 20 devices and could be downloaded by over 250 handsets in Vodafone's range.
(Reporting by Kate Holton and Georgina Prodhan, editing by Will Waterman and Rupert Winchester)