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App helps you limbo under 3G data cap

Onavo, an iPhone and iPad application, currently smushes web pages, app data and Google maps -- but not video.
Onavo, an iPhone and iPad application, currently smushes web pages, app data and Google maps -- but not video.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Onavo says it can effectively double or even triple your data plan
  • It compresses much of the data you use while surfing the web or using apps
  • The service is currently free, but it plans to have paid plans at some point
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(WIRED) -- Is your addiction to apps on your mobile phone or iPad driving your data usage right through the miserly caps of AT&T and Verizon?

Well, now there is an app for that.

Onavo, an iPhone and iPad application, says it can effectively double or even triple your data plan, by compressing much of the data you use while surfing the web or using apps. The company says it can compress e-mails as much as 80 to 90%. The app also currently smushes web pages, app data and Google maps -- but not video.

"Slowly but surely carriers are putting away unlimited plans in favor of capped plans," Onavo CEO Guy Rosen said. "Roaming is outrageously priced, and traveling internationally is very expensive. As a user you need to be in control and understand your data usage."

Data plans for the iPad 3G start at 250 MB for $15 on AT&T, with $15 more for every 250 MB you go above that -- a huge sum for a paltry amount of data. Verizon's charges start at $20 for 1 GB of data per month, with overage charges of $20 for every GB above it.

So every byte does count. (However, Sprint still offers an unlimited data plan in the United States.)

Onavo attempts to solve this problem by routing downloads to your device through its cloud-based servers. The servers then compress the data before sending it to your device. Once it is installed, all of your data traffic -- excluding internet phone calls -- makes an extra intermediate stop on Onavo's servers, without you having to do anything.

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The detour, by its nature, adds a bit of extra time for your device to communicate with, say, Facebook.

But because the photo album from Facebook gets shrunk, the effect for users is that downloads are faster, according to Rosen, particularly for those who are in low-coverage areas where devices revert to 2G networks.

The app also shows you how much data you use and breaks it down by app, helping you manage which apps are data hogs.

As for privacy, the company says it doesn't touch any of the packets that are sent through HTTPS (though users have an option to let Onavo compress some Exchange e-mail that uses HTTPS) and that it doesn't store data any longer than it needs to. But privacy-conscious users should note that all data you send on your phone that's not encrypted will be visible to Onavo (just as it is now to your mobile provider).

Rosen says that Android is on the horizon, due to popular demand, though there are no plans yet for a Windows 7 Mobile version, as the company has yet to get a single request for that port.

Some things to note: The app isn't the simplest to install, it doesn't compress any of the data originating from your device (that'd require some horsepower on the phone) and doesn't yet compress any video (which is often already compressed). But because almost all of your device's data is flowing through Onavo servers, the company can compress more and more types of data as it goes along.

The service is currently free, but Rosen says Onavo, a venture-capital--funded enterprise, plans to have paid plans at some point.

Rosen also imagines that Onavo down-the-road will also save users from having to constantly check how much data they've used, and says that he imagines that to be much more than just a text or e-mail reminder when your data usage is getting close to a limit.

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