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Mobile video calling has been available on European and Asian and 3G networks since launch over there. That is why most European 3G phones have small cameras that face the user.
However Cingular didn't launch video calling when they launched 3G. In fact, they even asked manufacturers to remove forward facing cameras from their 3G phones before they would sell them. Cingular still doesn't believe that people want send video of themselves while on a call, but they do believe that people might want to send video, to share what they're seeing.
This spring, Cingular will launch video sharing, a new 3G service that will allow 3G subscribers to send streaming video what they're seeing live to another 3G person. To do this both callers will need to have specially enabled 3G phones, and will have to currently be in 3G coverage.
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In order to take the guesswork out of whether you can share video with another person, Cingular will only let you start out with a voice call. If both users are on video enabled phones and have 3G coverage, then they will see a "video sharing ready" status message during the call. Then either user can press their camera button to start sharing video.
The video was surprisingly large and clear. It is not as smooth as a movie, but it is easily as smooth as the video most phones capture to a memory card. Speaking of which, you can also capture the video you are sending to a memory card - either manually or automatically for each call. Only the sender can record the video, not the receiver, so there's less opportunity for embarrassment later on.
While in a video call, the phones automatically switch to speakerphone so that you can watch the screen while talking. A series of icons also appear below the video giving both the caller and receiver easy access to features without having to use menus that would cover the video.
Either party can stop the video at any time, at which point the call just becomes a standard voice call again, with no interruption.
Cingular has not worked out final details as to how the service will be priced, when it will be launched, or what phones it will launch on. However we were told that in current trials, Cingular is charging the sending caller for the video.
You can watch a video demonstration of how the service works here: