In Pakistan, the bandwidth of an average landline is about 32 kilobits per second (as of 2011, the average broadband speed in the United States was 5.3 megabits per second). It can take more than 20 minutes to download a five-megabyte file—assuming the connection doesn’t drop during that time, as it frequently does. To help relieve the frustration, Umar Saif developed BitMate. The software lets different users in the same area pool the bandwidth of their connections to reduce download times, typically by half. Released in February, the software has already been downloaded more than 30,000 times by people in 173 countries.
Saif previously created a service that linked mobile phones into groups so that mass SMS messages could be sent. Since its launch in 2008, it has been used to send nearly four billion texts to about 2.4 million users in Pakistan, and the service, now called SMSall, has been used to coördinate protests, find missing persons, and organize blood drives. This summer Saif began expanding SMSall beyond Pakistan to Nigeria, Iraq, Bangladesh, and the Philippines. “SMS is the door to the world for many people,” he says. —Kristina Bjoran