Friday, March 28, 2008

Raul Casto allows mobile phones for Cubans 

The first signs of opening: Raul Castro removed the ban of mobile phones for all private Cubans - I did not know that this was not allowed at all. Already this Tuesday he removed the ban of selling PCs, TV-sets and Video recording devices to private Cubans.

The drawback: the tariffs have to be paid in convertible pesos: activation CUC$ 120, a minute in Cuba CUC$ 0.5, a minute outside Cuba from 3 CUC$ upwards.

To put this in relation, one should know that the monthly earnings in Cuba is 400 national pesos, which is about CUC$ 17.

So again only people in contact with tourists may be able to afford this, and not the doctors and teachers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cubas Options for the Future 

As I said in my previous post, the geriatric (and partially dead) trinity in Cuba - Che, Fidel and Raul - is finally coming to an end. They understood to serve the longings of the left wing western postwar and prosperity generations very efficient and let them forget the increasingly fatal situation in Cuba.

In Cuba itself they managed to overcome the so-called special period and opened up the country very selectively for tourism by creating basically two markets, one in national pesos and one in convertible pesos. This causes Cubans being employed in tourism and related occupations to earn much more than engineers, medical and educational staff, also causing doctors to move (to be a doctor you must not be stupid) and now carry luggage for tourists.

But the Cuban system has, by all critics, also interesting and sympathetic traits and one could also learn from the mistakes made elsewhere, e.g. in Russia and Yugoslavia. What Cuba needs is critical solitarity and help - not necessarily for the government, but for the population.

Cuba has 3 options (if we forget the 4th "north-korean" way)
  1. The "chinese" model i.e. through partial introduction of a capitalist economy to keep the status quo of the existing government. Because of the deadbeat economy this seems not possible as it it is with the big power China. Also the touristic earnings and the economic and political power of potential allies - in this case Venezuela and Iran - seems not to be sufficient.
  2. The american "turnaraound" i.e. that the Cubans from Miami - the "Cuban Mafia" - are taking over the power under US disguise. This would mean the introduction of an alibi-democracy in conjunction with revanchism and looting economy. This could be worse than Batista.
  3. The only way out - beside a broad latin american solidarity - is an approach to Europe. Cuba has here already with Spain a strong solicitor. Europe could act as intermediary for negotiations with a (new) US government and lobby for the abolishment of the US embargo in exchange for reforms.

However, Cuba hold out against 50 years of US embargo, done by a superpower on the other side of good and evil. This alone will earn Cuba an honorable entry in the Guiness Book of Records. But now it is time of a rethinking.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cuban Economy: Status Quo 

Up to 1990 the Cuban economy was heavily subsidised by the Soviet Union and the Comecon (Eastern Block) - basically sugar for fuel.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba enters the so-called Special Period:
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, the impact on the Cuban economy was devastating. Cuba lost approximately 80% of its imports, 80% of its exports and its Gross Domestic Product dropped by 34%. Along with food and medicines that were imported, half of the oil it used came from the USSR and all oil imports trickled to a mere 10% of previous amounts. Before this, Cuba had been re-exporting any Soviet oil it did not consume to other nations for profit (becoming Cuba's second largest export product before 1990). Once Soviet imports fell, Cuba faced a net deficit of oil, resulting in a need to reduce domestic consumption by 20% over the course of two years. The effect was felt immediately; dependent on fossil fuels to operate, transportation, industrial and agricultural systems were paralyzed. There were extensive losses of productivity in both Cuban agriculture — which was dominated by modern industrial tractors, combines, and harvesters, all of which required oil to run — and in Cuban industrial capacity.
The period radically transformed Cuban society and the economy, as it necessitated the successful introduction of sustainable agriculture, decreased use of automobiles, and overhauled industry, health, and diet countrywide.

In most countries, social programs are the first things to get cut during times of economic hardship. Before the Special Period, Cuba had three Universities and tuition costs were covered by the government. During this crisis, education continued to be tuition-free and to assist in reducing the cost of transportation, additional universities were opened bringing the number to fifty, spread throughout various municipalities.

Cuba’s focus on prevention and health has earned the small nation a world-wide reputation and teams of doctors have been sent throughout the globe to train and assist particularly during natural disasters. Cuba has only 2% of the total population of Latin America but has 12% of all its doctors. Of special note is the fact that 60% of the doctors in Cuba are women. The practice still continues where each community has a doctor that is assigned to it and lives in that area. Even during the Special Period, medical care continued to be subsidized by the state.

Note by author: A lot of discussions even now ends with these arguments, as Michael already said " ... so the people I talked with were actually quite happy with their situation ("We don't earn much, but as opposed to other countries education and health care is for free!" ) and couldn't see that people in developed countries who are considered as dirt poor have a way higher living standard ..."

BTW, what does "health care is free" really mean? As I told you in my previous post, I was now 3 weeks in the hospital, 2 weeks of this in intensive care. And I have to pay not one Eurocent, so it was for free. Of course I have to pay for health insurance in Austria about 5.1 % of my income (in pension). And I am not going into more details of the Austrian health system here.

As the country began to recover more visibly from the shock of the implosion of their economic underpinning, Castro gradually told the Cuban people that this "Special Period" was over; that it had succeeded in generally maintaining the long life expectancies and health statistics of the nation — figures roughly equivalent to those enjoyed in the United States — and that the country was therefore (relatively) prosperous once again.

Cubans suffered a great deal during the decade referred to as the Special Period and are still living under a lower standard than they were before 1991. This period forced Cuba to change from a nation of consumers--dependent on external oil sources--to a more sustainable economy based on meeting basic needs and conservation. Despite the fact that Cuba is a poor country (the average annual gross domestic product is $3,500), and may not be viewed as “successful” by Western standards, the average life span is higher than in the U.S. and the infant mortality rate is lower than the US. Their literacy rate is higher and their citizens have free medical and educational opportunities.

Policies were drawn up to satisfy the growing tourist markets of Canada and Europe with an aim to replace Cuba's reliance on the sugar industry and gain much needed foreign currency rapidly. A new Ministry of Tourism was created in 1994, and the Cuban state invested heavily in tourist facilities. Between 1990 and 2000, more than $3.5 billion was invested in the tourist industry. The number of rooms available to international tourists grew from 12,000 to 35,000, and the country received a total of 10 million visitors over that period. By 1995 the industry had surpassed sugar as Cuba's chief earner.

Today, Cuba welcomes travelers from around the world, and especially Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France , but also Argentina, Chile and Mexico. In recent years, more than 600,000 Canadians, 200,000 British, and 114,000 Germans have visited Cuba annually. Each year, thousands of Americans visit Cuba, even though the official U.S. trade policy usually does not permit travel there. According to TIME Magazine (May 11, 2007), 20,000 to 30,000 Americans illegally travel to Cuba every year (in my opinion even more). Americans usually reach Cuba via flights from Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver or Cancun. Cuban immigration officers do not stamp U.S. passports so Americans can keep their private visits, private.

Foreign investment in the Cuban tourism sector has increased steadily since the tourism drive. This has been made possible due to constitutional changes to Cuba's socialist command economy, to allow for the recognition of foreign held capital.

By the late 1990s, twenty five joint foreign and domestic venture companies were working within Cuba's tourist industry. Foreign investors and hoteliers from market based economies have found that Cuba's centralized economy and bureaucracy has created particular staffing issues and higher costs then normal. An additional factor cited by foreign investors is the degree of state involvement at the executive level, which is far higher than average.

Here we have to mention now the two Cuban currencies: the Peso or national peso (where the Cubans are making their living on and the Convertible Peso (CUC$), which is the money for the tourists.

From 1993 until 2004, the Cuban currency was split between the Cuban peso (the currency Cuban citizens are paid in and used for staples and non-luxury items) and the U.S. dollar in combination with the convertible peso, which was used for tourism and for luxury items.

On November 8, 2004, the Cuban government withdrew the U.S. dollar from circulation citing the need to retaliate against further U.S. sanctions. After a grace period ending on November 14, 2004, a 10% surcharge began to be imposed when converting U.S. dollars into convertible pesos. The change was announced some weeks beforehand and was extended by the aforementioned grace period (it has been claimed this was because the amounts of US dollars being exchanged were more than anticipated). This measure helped the Cuban government collect much needed hard currency.

In the joint ventures mentioned above, the salary of the Cubans is paid by the foreign company to the Cuban state in CUC$ and then given to the workers by the Cuban state in national pesos. But of course this not 100% and you should especially consider the tips. E.g. in the hotel Varadero, although all inclusive, some people gave 1 CUC$ tip per drink.

Two parallel economies and societies quickly emerged, their demarcation line was represented by access to the CUC$. Those having access to CUC$ through contact with the lucrative tourist industry suddenly found themselves at a distinct financial advantage over professional, medical, educational, industrial and agricultural workers.

Bar staff, hotel receptionists and taxi drivers became the coveted occupations in urban Cuba, and by 2006, permission to operate a private taxi cab service could cost up to $500 in bribes. Musicians have also found a radical shift in their economic status. El Nuevo Herald reported that the 400 CUC$ a month one band percussionist receives in tips performing to tourists in Old Havana is more than 30 times what he would receive from the Cuban government for the same work.

So a lot of the famous educational and medical staff in Cuba is now working in hotels carrying luggage for tourists.

How long can Cuba sustain this two parallel economies and what are the options in the future? I will try to do this in my next post.

I did also not talk about the political impacts in Cuba since 1990, the development of the trinity - Che Guevara as Jesus Crist Superstar Fidel Castro as godfather now in pension and the country lead by the holy ghost Raul.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


As my son Michael already mentioned, I was hospitalized with double pneumonia based on legionella pneumonia, together with liver, kidney and some other minor problems. First of all I want to thank everybody all over the world who cared and sent me good wishes.

We returned from Cuba on monday, February 18th and I started to feel sick on February 21nd. On February 25th I went to the doctor and got some antibiotica, which basically did not improve the issue. Friday, February 29th my wife decided to call the ambulance and I was delivered to the hospital. As I was told later it took until saturday morning to make all the tests and I was responding normally, but I can only remember up to the time until I entered the emergency ambulance car.

On saturday, March 1st, they decided to put me into intensive care at the nephrology station and artificial deep sleep. I was on kidney dialysis the whole time. My daughter Kathi told me afterwards that I was connected to about some 20 tubes and wires, from dialysis, oxygen, food to uretic outlets.

On friday, March 7th, they tried to wake me up again. What I can remember is that I saw Kathi and my wife only black-and-white, could somehow understand what they said, but could not speak comprehensive back myself. The next day I could speak back and saw them in color, the first improvement. For two other days I was put to the dialysis on and off.

My readings were improving every day now, but my next problem was that I was completely de-mobilized - I could not even sit up. So they had to start to re-mobilize me slowly - on March 12th I left the bed the first time to stand up - held by two men - for 1 minute, still connected to a lot of tubes.

March 13th I was transferred from intensive care back to the normal hospital. The first day I was still unable to leave the bed on my own, but this also improved quickly. The next thing I discovered was that I had lost 10 kg and this was of course one of my mobility problems, because the majority I lost was not fat but muscles. Anyway, I started first with the 3 steps to the toilet and wash-room, take the food not in be, but at the table and then to walk up and down the aisle.

The 3rd week I had to do a lot of checks, such as blood tests, lung tests, thorax x-ray and finally a gastroscopy to find out that I had some gastoenteritis and also some fungi in the gullet - I assume from taking all this medication.

Finally it was decided to release me just in time for Easter on friday, March 21st from hospital, but they will keep an eye on me. Next wednesday I am ordered back already to the nephrology ambulance of the hospital and later the day they will do an echocardiography. So they will keep me on the long line for some time.

So I want to thank the medical and non-medical staff in the hospital, they did an excellent job, and again everybody who cared and sent me good wishes, either direct or via my family.

And last but not least my wife and all of my children who really cared about me and visited me every day two or three times.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Cuba and Varadero 

I wanted to write a bit about my impressions in Cuba, but my son Michael did a much better
job on his blog Mahalanobis.

In addition I added some pictures on the Mac Web Gallery

since I am currently sick I can only provide limited input

Thursday, January 31, 2008


Today was my last working day - although I am already on vacation for 3 month. Currently I am in for a treatment in a health resort - or as we say on a cure - in Moorbad Neydharting in Upper Austria. Not that I am sick, but it is paid for by the state pension fund, and if it does not help, at least it does not harm.

In addition, I am needing new strength and fitness anyway for my retirement activities. - I will keep you informed. Our next plans are to go to Cuba (Havana and Varadero) from the 7th of February to the 18th. We want since a long time to see Cuba before Fidel Castro retires or dies.

I will report afterwards.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Weihnachten 2007 

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

the Stastny Family

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Verizon Wireless opens its network 

In a press release today - Verizon Wireless To Introduce ‘Any Apps, Any Device’ Option For Customers In 2008 - Verizon promises to open up its network, saying that the New Open Development Initiative Will Accelerate Innovation and Growth.

"BASKING RIDGE, NJ — Verizon Wireless today announced that it will provide customers the option to use, on its nationwide wireless network, wireless devices, software and applications not offered by the company. Verizon Wireless plans to have this new choice available to customers throughout the country by the end of 2008.

In early 2008, the company will publish the technical standards the development community will need to design products to interface with the Verizon Wireless network. Any device that meets the minimum technical standard will be activated on the network. Devices will be tested and approved (aha) in a $20 million state-of-the-art testing lab which received an additional investment this year to gear up for the anticipated new demand. Any application the customer chooses will be allowed on these devices.

This new option goes beyond just a change in the design, delivery, purchase, and provisioning of wireless devices and applications.

“This is a transformation point in the 20-year history of mass market wireless devices – one which we believe will set the table for the next level of innovation and growth,” said Lowell McAdam, Verizon Wireless president and chief executive officer. “Verizon Wireless is not changing our successful retail model, but rather adding an additional retail option for customers looking for a different wireless experience.”

Verizon Wireless will continue to provide a full-service offering, from retail stores where customers can shop, to 24/7 customer service and technical support, to an easy-to-use handset interface and optimized software applications.

While most Verizon Wireless customers prefer the convenience of full service, the company is listening through today’s announcement to a small but growing number of customers who want another choice without full service.

Both full-service and “bring-your-own” customers will have the advantage of using America’s most reliable network.

Following publication of technical standards, Verizon Wireless will host a conference to explain the standards and get input from the development community on how to achieve the company’s goals for network performance while making it easy for them to deliver devices."

The highlighted parts are added by me.
This an interesting move on Verizons part. What could be the reasons. Fred Goldstein sees three things behind it:

1) They have spent the past seven years trying to whittle down the number of competitors to the point where they could maintain strong cartel control. The magic number is probably "three". Powell and Martin failed to deliver -- T-Mobile didn't roll over dead, and upstarts like Metro and Leap kept showing up. T-Mobile is taking a more open position in the US and Sprint's moving that way too. ATT Mobile has the iPhone for a short-term halo effect. So Verizon recognized the way the wind was blowing.

2) Bring-your-own phones cost them $0 in subsidies, a lot less than they pay when you buy the phone from them with the usual contract. So this really helps their bottom line. The unsubsidized price of phones has fallen to a level where a significant number of buyers is willing to pay full fare (again, see iPhone). This makes Verizons network attractive to those very profitable customers.

3) The timing is critical here -- the Short Form deadline for joining the 700 MHz auction is next Monday. The big C block license has this as a rule. Verizon really doesn't want a big new player (Google) to win the license. But in order to bid on it, they have to accept these terms for that one license. It's easier to just accept them for all licenses, rather than confuse matters, especially in light of the other two big reasons. So Verizon is likely to bid on the C block, in order to bank it and keep competitors from using it to really disrupt things.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Nominet awarded the contract to run UK ENUM +44 

The Tier 1 registry for UK ENUM was awarded to Nominet by the UK ENUM Consortium (UKEC), a limited company set up with the recognition of the BERR (formerly the DTI) to administer the UK ENUM top level domain.

As I can remember UK was the first country to get an ITU-T approved ENUM delegation for a trial (May 16th, 2002). It is really interesting what one can trial for more then 5 years.

Anyway, congratulations.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Bargain - iPhone for $1477 

T-Mobile Offers iPhone Without Contract
Associated Press 11.21.07, 7:18 AM ET

BERLIN - Deutsche Telekom AG's mobile unit said Wednesday it would offer Apple Inc.'s iPhone without a contract to comply with a court injunction issued after a competitor challenged its exclusive lock on the handset.

T-Mobile will start selling the phone for 999 euros ($1,477) immediately as well as continuing to offer it for the discounted 399 euros ($590) in combination with a two-year contract, the company said in a press release.

Who would buy this except some idiots?

Interestingly this offer is valid only for a limited time - is it getting cheaper afterwards or even more expensive?


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tim Wu: Yes, Google is trying to take over the world 

Yes, Google is trying to take over the world

By Tim Wu

Excellent post, I have nothing to add

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Day the Routers Died ... 

The Day the Routers Died ... from the RIPE NCC #55 Meeting.

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Friday, October 19, 2007

Skype goes Mobile 

BusinessWeek had an article yesterday about Skype Goes Mobile.

There is strangely no mention of WiFi, but 3 has a spare 3G network lying around. So what we have now is the iPhone with no 3G, the mysterious gPhone and now the "White Phone" with iSkoot, (and maybe 3GPP IMS VoIP in 3 years).

Skype's new cell phone will deliver mobile access to its service. The beleaguered carrier hopes to jump-start revenues overseas
by Bruce Meyerson

Bit by bit, big names in the computing world are barging into the cell-phone business. First came Apple's game-changing iPhone. Next came word that Google is creating its own software platform for a new breed of cell phones. Now Skype, which popularized free and cheap phone calls over the Internet, is set to launch a customized cell phone developed jointly with 3 Mobile, a wireless carrier in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

Code-named the "white phone," the Skype handset will be introduced by late October in Britain, Italy, Hong Kong, and Australia, and will reach 3's other five markets later, BusinessWeek has learned. There are no immediate plans to bring the device to North America, though the companies may try to license it to other carriers or sell versions straight to consumers for them to use on other networks.

Connecting with Skype Buddies
What may be most striking about the device is that it's being pushed by a mobile carrier at a time when most of the wireless industry is anxiously fighting to preserve its business model against a siege of new technologies and players. The major wireless carriers are fearful of upstart technologies that are slashing once-robust revenue streams from traditional home and office telephones, so they've made it impossible to use Internet phone services on most of their phones.

Indeed, Vonage (VG) and other providers of VoIP technology will have signed up more than 15 million U.S. homes and businesses by yearend, generating nearly $5 billion of revenue for 2007, says research firm TeleGeography. But on cell phones, VoIP is hard to find. "There are a lot of reasons why mobile VoIP has not yet taken off—and they differ by region," says Stephan Beckert, a TeleGeography analyst. "In the U.S., a key reason is that mobile operators are deliberately trying to keep their customers from being able to use it."

The Skype cell phone, developed with a software outfit named iSkoot, is equipped with multimedia capabilities and high-speed data for mobile Web browsing. But its most prominent feature is a big button right above the regular keypad to activate Skype's popular service for long-distance and international calls. A press on that button triggers an iSkoot-developed application that brings up a list of a user's Skype "buddies" and regular phone contacts. A click on any entry in that list dials the call.

Skype's Challenge: Turning Appeal into Profits
Skype is betting that easy mobile access to its service could spur more overseas call traffic, a revenue-producing business where growth has slumped sharply. Though Skype boasts 246 million accounts, only about one-quarter to one-third of those customers are thought to be regular users, and the vast majority of their calls are free. Skype has struggled to turn its popularity into profits since it was acquired two years ago by eBay, which recently acknowledged it overpaid by $1.4 billion for the business (BusinessWeek, 10/1/07).

Calls on the Skype cell phone will cost the same as on a computer or Skype cordless phone: free when speaking to other Skype users, pennies per minute when users dial regular phone numbers in most countries. 3 Mobile, owned by Hong Kong's Hutchison Whampoa (HUWHY) , won't charge extra to use the Skype feature. But customers will need to spend a certain amount per month for other services, such as regular mobile calls, ringtones, or text messaging.

A cheap international connection could prove to be a potent draw for wireless users. Currently, few mobile phone subscribers are willing to pay the quarters and dollars per minute charged by cellular companies for international calls. That means 3 Mobile is putting little international revenue at risk by moving to the Skype model. Another intriguing twist: Since eBay owns the online payment service PayPal, success with the Skype phone could provide a springboard for using a cell phone or other handheld device to pay for items, as if it's a charge or debit card. That's been an elusive goal for the wireless industry except in a handful of countries such as Japan and Korea.

A Tough Sell with Carriers
But even if it widens the path being carved by Apple and Google, the Skype phone is really more of a back-to-basics concept. The iPhone adds sleek Web browsing and the simplicity of an iPod music player to a phone. The gPhone (BusinessWeek, 9/13/07) seeks to bring Google's expertise, finding information and showing related ads, to a mobile handset. By contrast, the Skype phone is first and foremost about plain old phone calls.

Whatever the nature of these new services and phones, Apple, Skype, and even handset makers like Nokia (NOK) have found that it's difficult to get them into consumers' hands without the aid of mobile carriers—and their cooperation is rare. In the case of Internet calling, the industry's uneasiness has been especially palpable.

Mobile carriers such as AT&T specifically prohibit VoIP on their phones in their terms of service. Verizon and Sprint Nextel have battered Vonage with patent infringement suits (BusinessWeek, 9/27/07) that may have as much to do with nudging the Internet phone company toward bankruptcy as protecting their intellectual property. And earlier this year, one of the top U.S. cellular companies put a last-minute kibosh on a plan by iSkoot to announce that its Skype application worked on some of that carrier's handsets. The carrier told iSkoot it was still determining its policy toward not only Skype, but VoIP in general.

The arrival of the Skype phone is but the latest sign of evolution in wireless, and counter measures by the cellular carriers a ready reminder that there won't be a revolution any time soon.

Meyerson is Deputy Technology Editor for

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Friday, August 31, 2007

Vacation in Canada 

As I already mentioned in my last post, I visited the IETF in Chicago in July. In the meantime, my wife, Michael, Raffael and Julia flew over to Canada and visited Quebec. The newly wed couple did their honeymoon on the Bahamas. I joined them after the IETF in Ottawa. Mario and Katharina also came to Ottawa after they stay in the Bahamas.

With our Canadian friends we did a canoeing trip in Algonquin Park and Barron Canyon. We stayed another week in Ottawa to join the wedding of Emil and Meghan.

The picture albums of Kathi's wedding and our time in Canada is available at my Web Gallery.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

AT&T Video Share 

After the wedding of my daughter last Saturday our family dispersed all over the world. The young couple flew on Monday to the Bahamas for honeymoon, the rest of the family on Wednesday to Montreal, and I travelled already on Sunday to Chicago to participate at the IETF#69. The idea is that we all will re-unite in Ottawa, ON on Sunday.

In the Palmer Hilton I get USA Today delivered each morning and today I found an interesting article: "Phones let you reach out and show someone - New AT&T Video Share devices send live video".

My first thought was that AT&T finally invented video telephony, or re-invented it, because video-telephony was demonstrated first by Herbert Eugene Ives in New York 1930, the first commercial service was between Berlin and Leipzig 1936, and then re-invented by AT&T as Picturephone in the early 1960.

But at a second glimpse it is more Push to Video. During a voice conversation you may add a one-way video stream to show the other side where you are - provided you have 3G UMTS/HSPDA coverage (EDGE does not work), and both parties have a special phone (Samsung 717, 727 or a LG CU500).

The bottom line in USA Today:
AT&T Video Share

Requires Video share phone and 3G network access: monthly plans start at $5 for 25 minutes
Pro: Lets you view live video stream over your cell phone while continuing a voice conversation. Simple operation.
Con: One-way video. Video quality is mediocre and sound is poor. Expensive service.

I want to add an additional Con: the problem is still unsolved what you do if you call your wife, and tell her you are still busy in a late meeting and she wants you to turn your video on.

BTW: I have since four years a 3G videophone (both ways), tried it out once and never used it again.


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