New 'Cosmos' browser surfs the net by TXT alone

No data plan? No WiFi? No worries ... except sluggish download speed


A project that's just landed on github aims to let users in the developing world access Web pages over text messages alone.

It's not as absurd an idea as it might first seem, to those of us whose first-world-problems include “how do I delete the U2 album from my iTunes library?”

While the number of mobile phones in the world continues to rise, most of the networks are yet to experience the joys of fast downloads – and in many places, the mobile network is the main contact with the outside world, since fixed networks haven't been built.

Enter the Cosmos Browser project: a bit of code that lets users browse the Web using just text messages.

The project's coders, led by Stefan Aleksic of ColdSauce, explain that turning Web browsing into SMS is a multi-stage process:

First, the user enters a URL into the Cosmos app. That URL is sent via text to ColdSauce's Twillio number, and forwarded as a normal POST request to ColdSauce's Node.js backend.

“The backend takes the url, gets the HTML source of the website, minifies it, gets rid of the css, javascript, and images, GZIP compresses it, encodes it in Base64, and sends the data as a series of SMSes”, the post explains.

Those messages are sent to the browser at the rate of three per second, and back at the phone, the app orders the received data, decompresses it, and displays it.

TXT messages can carry 140 characters, at eight bits per character, which is 1,120 bits per message. Multiply that by the three-TXTs-per-second Cosmos consumes and we get a bitrate of 3.36 Kbps. Or about 50 per cent faster than the 2400 baud modems that kicked off consumer internet use in the West.

Cosmos therefore puts "the next billion" about 20 years, and many on-screen pixels, behind the curve. ®

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