You’ve been using email for a while now, so you know how it works. You know that you don’t need a computer dedicated to your email service in order to check in or send messages. All you need is a computer, any ol’ computer, with Internet access. You just visit your account provider, like Gmail or Yahoo, log into your account and then read, send or receive messages.

Well, a U.K.-based company called Movirtu has created a mobile phone solution that works something like email. Users log into their accounts, where they can read or send text messages, listen to voicemail, make or receive calls.

Who would use such a service? Two groups, mainly. People living below the poverty level, who can’t afford even the cheapest mobile phones, and RIchie Riches, who have two or three phones stashed in their briefcases.

First, about those living in poverty. According to the World Bank, 4 billion people live on less than $2 per day. Many of those people are living in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Their lives could be greatly enhanced socially and economically with access to a mobile phone. That immediately puts them in touch with families, healthcare services or potential employers, without having to travel many miles from their rural villages.

However, buying a phone, even some of the cheap, refurbished ones that come in from China and sell for about $25 each, is way outside the means of most poor families. Not only are these phones expensive, but they don’t last long either. According to Nigel Waller, founder and CEO of Movirtu — and who spoke at the PopTech session today called “Cloud Computing for Good” — these refurbished phones only last about three months before they’re junk.

Waller thinks he has a better idea based on cloud computing, the common phenomenon of storing information and data on the Internet — that is, computer servers and hard drives located in far off places — and accessing it through a Web application. Think of email or Google docs. That’s cloud computing.

Movirtu’s concept is similar, only it involves phone services, like text messaging, voicemail and calls. To participate, a user obtains a card that gives her a unique phone number in a local phone network, and access to the network using a login and password. To make or receive calls, she obtains access to a phone, which she can do by paying a very small fee to a phone vendor in her rural village or borrows it from a friend. The lender gets credits for airtime minutes.

Phone in hand, the caller enters her unique login and password and immediately can make and receive calls and has private access to voicemails and text messages, which have been stored on an external computer system.

Since the person can’t always have the phone in hand 24/7, she can nominate a friend or family member who has a personal phone to receive notifications on her behalf.

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