Users of Java-capable mobile phones anywhere may find browsing the Web easier and cheaper now that Opera Software is allowing anyone to download its Opera Mini application. The official worldwide launch of Opera Mini is planned for January but Opera has quietly lifted restrictions that previously allowed only residents of some Nordic countries and Germany to download the application, a spokesman has confirmed.

Typically, full Web browsing is reserved for users of smartphones or handsets with powerful processing capabilities. Opera Mini is designed to improve on the limited WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) surfing available on many phones, allowing users of Java-capable mobile phone to surf the Web.

Mobile phone users download the Opera Mini Java application, under 100K bytes in size, to their phones. The small client communicates with servers operated by Opera that strip down the size of Web pages, making them quicker to transfer to the mobile phone and rendering them to fit on the small screen of the phone.

"The idea is that you shouldn't have to buy an expensive smart phone to browse the full Web," said Eskil Sivertsen, a spokesman for Opera.

Opera is hosting the back-end servers and mobile phone customers can download and use the application free of charge, except for the fees related to using the mobile networks. Using Opera Mini should reduce fees that customers pay their mobile phone operators because the system compresses the size of Web sites by 70 per cent to 80 per cent before sending them to the handset, Sivertsen said. Most mobile data users pay based on how much data they download.

Users must have a mobile phone capable of downloading a Java application. Sivertsen figures that there are 700 million phones being used today that are capable of downloading Opera Mini.

Opera is also offering Opera Mini to operators and content providers which can offer a branded and customized version to their users. The operator or content provider could host the back-end servers themselves or hire Opera to do so for them. Once users have the Opera Mini browser on their handsets, the operator or content provider can push content or special promotions to the browsers, for users to see when they launch the browser. Opera is testing Opera Mini with operators and content providers around the world, Sivertsen said.

Opera Mini is meant to coexist with Opera Mobile, a fully fledged browser. Opera Mobile is designed for smartphones and can do anything a browser on a desktop computer can do, Sivertsen said. Opera Mini, by contrast, can be used on less powerful handsets, and has only limited support for advanced Javascript and other advanced Web site tools.

Opera quietly enabled the download of Opera Mini to be able to prepare for the increased traffic on its servers before the official launch next month. The download has previously been available to cell phone users in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Germany.

The worldwide availability of Opera Mini was noticed recently by a mobile phone enthusiast who posted his find on Monday to the All About Symbian community Web site.