biNu targets ageing WAP platform for mobile internet

Despite exponential smartphones sales in first world countries, a small startup in Sydney has pinpointed keypad-laden mobile phones with WAP browsers as the key growth area for mobile internet.

Staffed by six people, biNu provides a Java-based thin client which sits on any compliant mobile phone and processes all internet browsing requests on the server, rather than the phone itself.

biNu claims to make browsing easier by assigning a keypad number to each individual action on a given web page, decreasing the amount of effort required to navigate websites on cramped mobile phones.

Since each webpage must be tailored to the mobile phone screen and to suit the biNu control method, each page is essentially delivered as an image - “GLIFs” or miniature GIF images - to the phone instead of pure HTML data, speeding up response times for requests to one to two seconds.

The platform was initially launched to coincide with the FIFA 2010 World Cup in South Africa in June, and saw a total 51,000 downloads globally, with the most activity seen in India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Egypt.

“You may all think that everybody is about to get an iPhone or an Android phone or similar but the reality is, in five years time, the majority of phone users will still be on 2G, keypad-based handsets,” biNu chief executive officer, Gour Lentell, told the Tech23 conference this week.

Like WAP, the biNu platform is able to operate over a 2G connection without significantly slowing browsing speeds. Since the client relies on a lot of caching and pre-caching to deliver webpages, in some cases only a single packet has to be delivered over the mobile network, a process Lentell says is just as fast over 2G as 3G connections.

“WAP was crap, it still is, and it still will be in five years time,” Lentell told conference attendees, selling biNu as a cheaper alternative.

Since launch, biNu has released over 35 content services despite having only two developers, and will look to outsource development for further applications on the platform, in a similar way to the opportunities offered by Facebook.

biNu professes to provide a solution that would break down the global digital divide, a solution Lentell says could have an “impact in areas like commerce, education, learning, politics, culture, entertainment; you name it”.

The company has already hit a target of 20,000 downloads per day from users - with the most popular Google search result predictably “sex” - and is looking to reach 50,000 to 100,000 of daily downloads in the next year.

A panel of judges assessing Lentell’s presentation at Tech23 appeared almost amazed at the platform, but remained unsure of where interest would lie around the world and how successful the company would be in proliferating the platform.

Tech23, held for the second time in as many years, saw 23 Australian startups vie for a raft of prizes and venture capital funding in order to invest in varied technological projects spanning a range of areas such as robotics, ecology, health, education and mobility.

The conference saw the birth of a new startup incubator fund, with notable involvement from Atlassian founders, Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquharm, which recently scored $60 million in venture capital funding in the US.

The biNu presentation won Lentell a minor prize - a meeting with Uniloc chief executive, Ric Richardson - but he told Computerworld Australia that attending the conference was more focussed around raising awareness and networking rather than seeking venture capital funding.

biNu is looking to begin funding rounds later in the year with aims of around $5 million, but Lentell said the company would more likely find it in areas where there was a more global focus, rather than Australia, such as India and Silicon Valley in the US.

“It’s a smaller industry here and it’s a bit more selective. For what we are and the markets we’re aiming at, it’s less likely rather than more likely we’ll get investments from Australia.

“The plan going forwards is to continue to build market traction over the next year and to quantify and identify revenue models through direct to consumer and through mobile operators and mobile media companies,” Lentell said.

biNu will also look to implement a mobile payments scheme as an alternative revenue stream, allowing users of the platform to pay for virtual goods and applications without a credit card.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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