Opera widens lead over iPhone in mobile browsers

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Norway’s Opera Software has parlayed access to the iPhone platform into an increased lead in the global mobile browser market over rivals, including iPhone maker Apple, independent data show.

In April Apple accepted distribution of Opera’s browser for its iPhone after a long review, opening a new and potentially lucrative market it has so far closely guarded from rivals.

In April alone Opera’s iPhone browser was downloaded more than 2.6 million times -- creating 70 percent of user growth in the month for Opera’s mobile browser.

Globally, 26.4 percent of cellphone browsing in June so far has been done through Opera’s browser, according to Web analytics firm StatCounter. The iPhone browser follows with 18 percent of the market.

The lead has increased steadily since February when Opera’s lead over Apple was just 2.5 percentage points.

“It is good for Opera that his user mass is growing, because this is what Opera takes to the operator to show how many users they have,” said Christian Rom, analyst at Carnegie.

On Wednesday Opera said Russia’s No. 2 mobile operator, MegaFon, will distribute Opera’s mobile browser across Russia, further cementing the market leading position of the Norwegian company in its largest market.

Deals like this with mobile operators have become increasingly important for Opera as handset vendors have started to shun independent vendors in favor of their own browsers.

MegaFon, which has earlier offered unlimited Internet access with the Opera Mini package in the Moscow region, said the number of Opera Mini unique users has increased by 10-15 percent each month.

“Keeping in mind the popularity of the Opera Mini browser in the Russian-speaking Internet segment, we expect a significant growth in user numbers,” Mikhail Ilin, Opera’s sales director in the region, said in a statement.

In Russia -- where Opera has a similar deal with leading operator MTS -- its market share is 78 percent.

Opera shares rose 1.6 percent to 25 crowns by 1237 GMT, while the STOXX 600 technology index edged up 0.1 percent.

Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg in Oslo; Editing by Brett Young and Michael Shields