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The function of voicemail
Voicemail is the probably the most important and familiar service added to telephony systems in the last fifty years. Given the choice between call forwarding, caller ID, call waiting, paging services, remote telecommuting, and voicemail, the majority of users would choose voicemail. Caller ID would likely finish a close second. Without the invention of voicemail technology, we would be relegated to live answer, human answering services, and feature-poor answering machines.
Voicemail services on today's PBXs are typically external computers or proprietary modules with the following components
  • A processor to run the software that controls the entire voicemail system
  • A hard disk drive to save recorded messages, greetings, and system files
  • A telephone interface that communicates with the phone system to answer calls, forward calls, accept touch-tone selections, and playback messages and greetings

When a call connects to an extension and the party is not there, the voicemail system answers the call, plays your greeting, and records the voice message. It sounds simple, but the research, development, and perfection of this task occurred over decades.


Intuity Audix voicemail PC with Pentium processor.

Voicemail Features

iPhone with Visual Voicemail

Typical voicemail systems have a common feature set. These include call answer, greeting recording and playback, message playback, message forward, and save and delete. Users access their messages by logging into their mailbox directly over their phone. Messages retrieved in this manner can only be played back or skipped in the order that they were received. In addition playback is usually accompanied by a time and date, caller ID, and message length.

Newer voicemail systems have incorporated features that integrate with other forms of communication. These include forwarding to email, remote notification and message retrieval, and visual voicemail.  Visual voicemail allows users to see all of their messages on a deskphone display, cell phone display, or PC. The messages are accompanied by time and date, message length and contact identification. Using this information, the user can select which message to playback and playback can occur in any order. In the age of iPhones, this feature is common place and often an expected service for any smart phone user.


Automated attendant service
Almost all voicemail systems also provide integrated automated attendants. An automated attendant is the familiar service that announces, “Thank you for calling XYZ company. If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. Otherwise please choose from these options….” Auto-attendants use the same technology that voicemail services do. They answer calls and play back greetings, provide menu options, and accept touch tone selections. They also connect calls to the correct party.
Certainly, voicemail systems play a very important role in today’s PBX market. It is a service that is expected on any business phone system, cell phone service, or residential line.