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Cool Icelandic Phone Technology Is Hot

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Sometimes I doubt that all the amazing communications technology the world has seen in the last decade has resulted in increased or better communication, and I mean real communication, not just "HUD, GGN, H&K, LY2!" (How You Doing, Gotta Go Now, Hugs & Kisses, Love You Too!).

I say this as someone who for a long time has lived away from her home country (and yes, I'm aware that my family and friends simply may not be interested in communicating with me, but I do know that at least some of them are... If only to ask me to go shopping for them -- which they, of course, can do and do via email...).

I remember receiving letters (!) -- long letters from my sister, which I treasure -- and I would religiously exchange phone calls with family and friends at certain days and times of the week. Now (when you'll never again have to pay an international phone bill in the plus four digits), however, it's a rarity to engage in a longer than two-minute communication with someone.

Backside Of Scarcity Principle
As wonderful as these communication methods via the computer (facebook, videoconferencing, VOIP calling) are, it seems the increasing abilities to communicate have proportionally diminished the desire to do so. The reasons for this may vary, and some may have nothing to do with technology but economics: the backside of the scarcity principle; logistics: Mom, I'm at my computer, why aren't you sitting at yours?, and cosmetics: heard of bad hair days, Skype?

To the rescue have come a couple of my compatriots -- and no, rest easy; these guys have never had anything to do with the banks or banking -- in the form of a new Icelandic telephone software company called Amivox (amicus = friend, vox = voice), which allows you to utilize the low-cost computer telephone technology, but on your telephone - your regular old landline telephone (yes, also the black rotary telephone from grandma's house), and of course, your cell phone.

"Operator! Give Me The Number For 911!" Homer Simpson
How does it work? Well, it uses a call-back system -- remember the telephone operator? "Here's the number you requested, madam..." An example. My mom, who is six hours ahead of me, likes to Skype me before she goes to bed, but then I'm usually cooking dinner or chasing the kids around the house, and it's inconvenient for me to sit at the computer.

With Amivox, we can talk using our telephones. The call is initiated on the computer, but you don't have to be joined at the hip to it during the conversation. So: I'm at home. I log into the Amivox account on my computer using my cell phone number (you use your cell phone number to set up the account, and that's your account number), and on the dashboard "dial" mom's phone number (in my account profile, I will have entered a callback numer -- my home phone number or my cell number, or any number I'm at, could be the neighbor's or a hotel -- into the Amivox program, so the software knows where to call me back). In a few seconds, my telephone rings (it will be my cell phone calling me, in this case at my home landline) and when I answer, an operator (OK, so it's not Jane Barbe live) recording says: "Please wait, your call is being connected," and the phone rings at mama's, who picks up her black Olivetti or the gold (think Louis XV) phone - or the B&O Beocom. And now we can go on yakking for... 4¢ a minute instead of, say $1.85 (Qwest), or 49¢ (AT&T).

Remember, although this call is initiated on the computer, it is not a computer-to-computer call, but telephone-to-telephone, using actual phone lines. If you want to call Aunt Walburga's cell number in Germany from your cell phone (using the Amivox app), the call will cost you 10¢ per minute. A SkypeOut call (which you'll have to do via and tied to your computer) to Walburga's cell phone will cost you 25.3¢. France is even less expensive -- calling from your cell phone using the Amivox app to a cell phone in France is 7¢ per minute. A SkypeOut call to a mobile phone in France is 20.9¢. Calling Iraq? Mobile to mobile via Amivox app is 6¢; SkypeOut is 39¢ and GoogleVoice 16¢.

Amivox founders and owners, Icelanders Birkir Marteinsson and Arnar Gestsson, and Spaniard Eric Figueras Torras, who all are electrical engineers, founded the business in 2006 at the height of Iceland's financial Hindenburg, which crashed and burned only two years later with devastating consequences for the Icelandic public and small businesses. „Running a business here has at times been challenging," said Marteinsson, but with offices in Denmark and Scotland "we really are an international enterprise."

40-60% Savings For Iceland National University Hospital
Amivox currently has about 30,000 users in over in over sixty countries; many of their customers are large companies with international needs. Iceland largest hospital, The National University Hospital of Iceland, signed up at the beginning of the year and confirmed that using the Amivox technology has saved the institution 40-60% on international telephone costs.

The company has put much effort into developing applications that suit businesses, but they also want to increase their general consumer market share. One of Amivox's latest products, an app called "Shout" recently generated a little hoopla -- and not all of it good. The Android app records your voice message, which you can send -- or "Shout" to the recipient, who receives a call with your caller ID and your "Shout," which your phone plays upon answering. The trio decided to promote the app on dating sites as "the ultimate breakup tool."

"That did not go over well," said Marteinsson. "Of course we weren't personally of the opinion that breaking up like that would be a good idea... it was really silly," they admitted a little sheepishly. "It was just an idea to get attention - which we got!" They plan to market the app again, but with a different twist. "We'd much rather prefer the "Shout" become the ultimate I-love-you tool..."