Mobility

Save on your data plan with Onavo Extend

Find out how to extend the value of your existing data plan with the help of Onavo Extend, a free mobile application for both iOS and Android devices.

Around the beginning of this decade, cell phone carriers like AT&T and Verizon wished to combat the overwhelming stress to their networks caused by data-hungry smartphone users. It was then decided by the big suits that the so-called unlimited data plans should come to a screeching halt and tiered data would be the way of the future. Little by little, as subscribers began to renew their contracts for new devices, AT&T -- and later on Verizon -- initiated the plan changes.

If you're one of those unlucky souls that has a smartphone with a capped or limited data plan, there's an excellent way to keep your consumption of bits and bytes down, all the while delivering both a rich and even faster mobile web experience. Onavo Mobile is the company behind the hit app Onavo Extend, which is available for both iOS and Android. This service effectively tunnels your data traffic through a special VPN, applying various data optimization techniques before sending pages off to your phone for consumption. To see how easy this is to get up and running, follow this step-by-step setup procedure. In my example, I'm using an iPhone 5.

  1. Download the free Onavo Extend mobile application.
  2. When you start Onavo Extend for the first time, you're greeted by a welcome screen that prompts you for an email address to associate with the device VPN. Type that in, and then click the "Extend your data plan" button to continue (Figure A).
  3. Figure A

    Onavo Extend welcome screen.
  4. You'll see a basic slideshow introduction about Onavo Extend and how it works. When you reach the end, tap Install VPN profile (Figure B).
  5. Figure B

    Install the VPN profile in Onavo Extend.
  6. Before you're able to continue, you'll have to accept the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which dictates what Onavo Extend can and can't do with any traffic that makes its way through its data optimization service. If you desire, you may uncheck the "Allow anonymous data collection for research purposes" checkbox before pressing Agree & Continue (Figure C). Whatever you decide to do here will not affect your data compression performance in any way.
  7. Figure C

    Onavo Extend Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
  8. Your primary mobile web browser will briefly appear to notify you that configuration is in progress. A few seconds later, you'll see an Installing Profile screen. Tap Install, and then select Install Now to confirm your action (Figure D). You might have to repeat this exercise a second time.
  9. Figure D

    Installing Profile screen.
  10. At this point, it might take up to 30 seconds to finalize the VPN profile installation. If you're prompted for your passcode or password, enter it accordingly in order to proceed (Figure E).
  11. Figure E

    You may have to enter your phone's passcode.
  12. When you've reached the end, you'll see the screen display a green status bar with the words "Saving is on" across the center of it (Figure F). If you're on your cellular data and not a Wi-Fi connection, a VPN symbol will appear at the top of the screen, informing you that Onavo Extend is active and working behind the scenes to save on your data plan.
  13. Figure F

    Onavo Extend is shrinking your data.
  14. Once you've used your phone in this savings mode for awhile, a data savings report is generated periodically for your viewing pleasure. To access this report, simply launch the Onavo Extend app and tap Reports on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen (Figure G).
  15. Figure G

    Onavo Extend periodically generates reports.

That's all there is to it! However, please note that if you're using an iPhone that's jailbroken, there's a possibility that your VPN profile might not initialize properly and you'll have to reinstall the profile via Onavo Extend's settings menu. You can find the settings by pressing the small gear button near the top of the Onavo Extend main screen and then finalize the operation with a phone reboot to allow the changes to take effect.

Have you used Onavo Extend on your iOS or Android device? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About

An avid technology writer and an IT guru, Matthew is here to help bring the best in software, hardware and the web to the collective consciousness of TechRepublic's readership. In addition to writing for TechRepublic, Matthew currently works as a Cus...

12 comments
jcball5
jcball5

This gent is obviously invested in Onavo which is disturbing as I have always looked to TR to be the "Consumer Reports" for IT folks.

Matthew G. Davidson
Matthew G. Davidson

If the data is being sent to their systems encrypted in a PPTP VPN they must be decrypting it and have access to potentially sensitive information. Does this sound legit? I have not read through their privacy policy or terms and conditions, but I bet they state clearly that all data sent through their systems is being monitored.

jeromefraser
jeromefraser

What's the performance like using this app, does it slow down web browsing at all? If so by how much? How much percentage of data are you actually likely to save using this?

nick
nick

Cripes, this comes across more like an advert than anything else. A tutorial on how to install Onavo is not a discussion. I would have expected the following questions answered. How does it work? A small mention of compression is not sufficient explanation. The Tech in TechRepublic stands for Technical - you are allowed to give a technical explanation.

CharlesG1970
CharlesG1970

You showed how much you used in this example, but not how much this saved? Is it 1.2% savings, or 12%, or 68% Does is slow down your loading or your phone? Thanks for letting us know this exists, but if you want to report on it you should take the initiative to at least do some evaluation. you know something like: "In 1 week it saved me 20MB over 400MB used so I saved 5% and the phone was not noticably slower but pages were loaded slower"

NickkTE
NickkTE

Not a bid deal. Its old tech in many ways, using pipelining techniques whitespace removal and video optimisation etc I shouldn't wonder - so how much value is gained where the operator has invested in their MSP platforms and already has a whole bunch of otimisation techniques installed. Now they may be end of lifing some of that stuff as LTE has come along, but they still have tons of legacy devices so why would they do that .. great idea, but where does this really give value - I'd like to knwo what the business driver is here, if its free what are you giving them?

jenskirkeby
jenskirkeby

Does this work when you are traveling international also or is it not being used when you use your phone from another country and provider

kjfaucheux
kjfaucheux

So how does it work? You show how to load it but not how it really works.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Depending upon the content you download to your phone, some data is more compressible than others. Already compressed images like JPG might not save you that much over Onavo, where as easily compressable data like BMP files would. Hope that satisfies your question.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

I use Onavo on a daily basis and it not only improves surfing speeds, but also reduces consumption on limited data plans. The Onavo profile is effectively a PPTP VPN tunnel that connects your phone directly to their servers. The Onavo service works as a "middle man" by sending pages you request back to you more compressed. I would compare this to something like Opera Mobile web browser and the server-side optimization techniques it employs, except this is phone wide and not just limited to one particular web browser.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Not all data is made equal in terms of compression efficiency, depending on the content you request, such as an already compressed MP3 file or an uncompressed BMP file. As far as surfing speeds go, I have noticed an increase in page download speeds and the "snappiness" of my surfing experience in mobile Safari.

Matt Nawrocki
Matt Nawrocki

Onavo works by sending all requests through their servers, much like any VPN normally would. The service then compresses the data down to more managable chunks so that you can not only load pages faster, but save on your data connection. It's pretty cut and dry, really. :)

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