The two launched biNu in 2010, offering low-end phone users "a radically different" browsing experience. The company claims that with biNu, webpages can load much faster than on a smartphone, and use far less bandwidth. How? Simple, really. Most of the processing is not done on the phone, but in the cloud.
"We virtualize the smartphone experience on our cloud-based platform. We do all the processing, right down to fonts and graphics, in the cloud and then transfer that efficiently to the phone to be displayed."
It is a similar trick used by other browsers, such as Opera Mini, Skyfire, UC Browser and Bolt. And it is one, Lentell that says, can translate into smaller data usage bills for the user as unnecessary information is not downloaded to the phone.
Like Mobile-XL, biNu is a stand-alone application that can be downloaded for free. Within the biNu platform, users find links to popular sites such as Facebook, Gmail and the like. It is comparable to another application known as Snaptu, that gathered nearly 80 million users before it was bought by Facebook in 2011 and redesigned as the Facebook For Every Phone app.
Lentell says that he sees the attraction of the technology to a company like Facebook – a lot of his users use the social network through his app, particularly the messaging function, which he says replaces SMS in a lot of cases. But, he says, there is a demand for other services.
"Wikipedia, Google Search and Google Translate are used widely across our various markets,” he says.
Another popular service is biNu Books, which the company is working on in conjunction with a non-profit called Worldreader. For the past few years, Worldreader has been distributing e-readers to kids in the developing world. The readers come pre-loaded with reference materials, local textbooks and classics of world literature that are in the public domain.
Worldreader's e-reader program has been popular, but "the fact that mobile penetration is so high in most parts of the developing world - and growing fast - has driven us to looking into the possibility of using mobile phones to deliver more books to more folks," says the organisation’s Elizabeth Wood.
"But until now, the technology hasn't been there for the feature phone. Books on iPhones are great, but the people we are trying to reach don't have iPhones. They have $20 Nokias."
So Worldreader and biNu teamed up to make a reader for low-end phones. "The advantage of a phone app," says Wood, "is that it's a library in your pocket on a device you already have." They hope that with biNu's help, they'll have one million users by the end of next year.
Right now, both biNu and Mobile-XL are tapping into markets hungry for a low-cost, efficient and reliable way to access the internet in ways that many of us in the developed world take for granted. But will that change as more of the world gets connected via 3G and even 4G systems?
Both Lentell and Kamgaing do not think a switch-over like that is going to happen overnight. Lentell points to the fact that a large portion of downloads come from the US, suggesting a demand even in mature markets, whilst Kamgaing says he sees a “long future” for voice and SMS in emerging markets.
“I think that's why you have to decide to give people some basic tools, instead of expecting them to buy smartphones and iPhones," he says.