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A digital answering system, sometimes also called a “digital answering machine,” is an electronic device that is connected to a land-line telephone for the purpose of recording and storing caller messages. The device will answer incoming calls, usually after a certain number of rings, and will then instruct callers to leave a message. It records these to a digital chip, keeping track of the exact date and time of each call. Owners can often access stored messages remotely, either by calling the device or sometimes through a dedicated Internet site, and they can almost always be played back on the device itself, too. Digital answering systems are common in both home and office settings, and they can typically be set up with multiple mailboxes for different users.
The technology involved is usually fairly simple. Some telephone handsets and base stations come with digital answering already built in, in which case all a user needs to do is set it up. The devices can often be bought independently, too. In these instances, the machine must be plugged in to both a power source and the phone line, either directly or through a jack on the base station of the phone itself.
A digital chip is imbedded into the device and is where the messages are stored. Many of the first answering machines recorded messages onto tape, which could then be rewound, re-played, and recorded over time and time again. The digital system removes the need for tape, and generally provides a more reliable message storage service. It’s usually a lot harder to fill up these sorts of mailboxes, though it is possible. In these instances the problem isn’t running out of tape, it’s running out of memory. People who have this issue frequently often look for models with more memory, or they look for ways of upgrading the chip capacity they already have.
How It’s Used
People can use digital answering machines both at home and in office or business settings. In either case, the user can usually record a custom outgoing greeting that callers will hear before they can leave a message or the answering system will provide a number of standardized greeting choices. Systems for home use often come with a number of handsets with smaller base stations that can be used around the house.
Many units have the capacity to create different mailboxes for different users. For instance, a caller might be instructed to press one to leave a message for Jim or press two to leave a message for Jessica. This type of answering system can be beneficial for large families where members each receive many messages, or for small businesses with only a handful of employees. Some may only be used with one telephone line, but others are able to accept incoming calls from two or more individual lines.
In the office, the answering system is often called "voice mail" and will likely encompass the entire office. Employees typically each have their own digital mailbox that is most commonly accessed with an extension number branched off of the company’s main phone number. Employees are often instructed to record their own greetings and to regularly check the messages from their individual phones — sometimes by dialing their own extensions or by listening at the base station.
Digital answering machines typically indicate new messages with a beeping sound, a flashing light, or an illuminated number that shows how many messages are waiting. The easiest way to hear them is to push the button labeled “play” on the device, but this isn’t usually the only option. Many answering systems can be accessed remotely simply by calling one's own phone number and entering a pre-set code. The system will then play the messages over the phone while keeping them stored on the machine for later access. Depending on how the system was set up, users may also be able to view and screen waiting messages from a dedicated website.
Distinguishing Cellular Voicemail
There can be some confusion between digital answering systems and programs known as “digital voicemail,” which are common with many mobile and cellular phone carriers. Mobile phones frequently come with the option of voicemail services, but these aren’t usually true digital systems because they aren’t independent pieces of technology. Rather, they are facets of the basic phone service. These sorts of messages are usually stored either in the cloud or with the service provider, and aren’t generally as permanent.