For the first time ever in 2013, the number of 2G subscribers in the world began its descent, falling three percent to 4.8 billion, according to TeleGeography. Despite this, 2G users continue to account for roughly 70 percent of the world’s 6.8 billion mobile subscribers, many of whom live in rural areas and developing markets and can hardly afford the 2G connections that they have, much less 3G or 4G. And as we all know, the rates charged for phone calls can be extortionately high.
The solution would naturally be to turn to online telephony (VoIP) apps, such as Skype or Viber, to make free online calls. Martin Nygate, the founder and CEO of Singapore-based mobile technology company Gentay Communications, says that there are two huge problems with this.
“First, they aren’t very reliable, especially in a poor cellular network environment. They struggle in congested 3G networks and just don’t work in 2G,” he explains. “Second, you can only call app-to-app for free. App-to-non app calls such as calls to landlines cost money. Telcos have been exploiting this for years by charging high roaming charges.”
The solution? Create an app that allows quality calls to be made even on 2G networks – which is exactly what Nygate set out to do with the creation of mobile VoIP app Nanu:
Whereas apps such as Skype and Viber operate in a high bandwidth environment such as 3G/4G/Wifi, naNanunu uses low bandwidth VoIP technology that allows it to provide quality calls where other apps can’t, including on 2G networks. This means it is truly mobile, and you can use it pretty much anywhere.
Quality is also assured because of the low bandwidth that Nanu requires put together with the team’s network infrastructure. The team has tested Nanu in rural regions with limited connectivity and according to Nygate the “results have been very positive”.
Voice calls made on Nanu are absolutely free, too – even for app-to-non app calls. To make this happen, Nanu inserts an advertisement that plays over the ringtone while you are waiting for a call to be picked up. “The revenue from the ad subsidizes the cost of the call so you can make it completely for free,” says Nygate. He says the ad is designed to be as inconspicuous as possible.
It began at sea
The founding team comprises of a father-son duo. Nygate and his son, Daniel, were attempting to solve the problem of mariners on vessels at sea not being able to call their families on shore using products like Skype and Viber. VoIP applications such as Skype and Viber were unable to operate via satellite communications systems due to the low bandwidth available.
“Daniel innovated a new approach to reducing the bandwidth required to deliver VoIP calls, resulting in a reduction of bandwidth requirements in comparison to conventional VoIP applications by 80 percent – and the solution was found,” Nygate recalls. The duo quickly realised that there were far wider applications for such technology, and so Nanu was born.
Currently, Nanu’s infrastructure can support up to 50 million users, with more network capacity to be added as the user base grows in the near future. “The more calls are made through our network, the more revenue it can generate from advertisers, and the more free calls Nanu can then give back to our subscribers,” he says.
Not surprisingly, that is the startup’s primary mission now: to rapidly expand its user-base and expand the list of countries whose landlines Nanu users can make calls to. The number of countries stands at 73 at present.
Nygate adds that this model also gives advertisers an opportunity to deliver targeted ads to the mass market, particularly in emerging markets.
Gentay Communications, the company behind Nanu, has had interest from investors, most of whom Nygate believes “have understood the potential for Nanu to be a game changer in the global telecom industry”. It received initial funding from an unnamed Japanese corporate investor, and has recently received a substantial investment from an investment group led by Sim Wong Hoo, the former founder and CEO of Singapore-based Creative Technology.
Free, but limited
The app is currently only available on Android, but will be arriving on other OSes later. It has received a fairly positive reception as of now, with some exceptions:
At the moment, it seems that Nanu to non-Nanu calls are limited to a mere 15 minutes. Nygate clarifies:
The first one million users will receive free unlimited Nanu-to-Nanu calls, as well as 15 free minutes of Nanu to non-Nanu calls across 73 countries.
Understandably, this has caused confusion and annoyance, and led to a wave of one-star ratings for the app in Google Play. As earlier mentioned, with more users, more free minutes will be made available.
(Image credit: Flickr user Ron Pyke)