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.