What is Voicemail?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Voicemail is a type of messaging service that allows the recording, transferring and storing of recorded messages. Once primarily a tool for corporations and businesses, voicemail is now a standard feature with mobile networks. Although voicemail originally served as a basic answering machine that could serve a network of phones, today it can be integrated with email and other electronic networks to create comprehensive messaging systems.

A private voicemail box enables a person to receive telephone messages when the phone cannot be answered.
A private voicemail box enables a person to receive telephone messages when the phone cannot be answered.

The origin of voicemail is a disputed topic; several companies and individuals claim the invention for themselves. The first patents for network phone recording devices were issued in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The development of these innovative products was largely in reaction to growing concern over business efficiency; companies that placed and received hundreds or even thousands of calls a day could have tremendous difficulty ensuring messages were correctly received and went to the right person. Voicemail allowed the caller to leave a detailed and clear message that could be listened to by the intended recipient at leisure. Using a network of phone extensions dedicated to specific individuals within the business, secretaries could ensure that messages went to the correct person.

Voice messaging systems are typically operated using an on-site main computer or an off-site operator provided by an external company. While in-house run systems are typically more customizable, external networks remove the need for workers or participants to understand how to run the system. To use an on-site network, usually at least one person must be trained in the operation and management of the system, while the management and upkeep of external networks is run by network personnel.

Although there is some variation between network providers, many voice messaging systems are quite simple to set up and use. The user records an outgoing message with basic information, such as name and additional methods of reaching him or her. When a call is sent to voicemail, the caller hears this information before having the opportunity to record a message for the user. To listen to new messages, the user must access the system and often enter a user-chosen passcode. After the new message is played, the user can save or delete the message or replay it before going on to the next stored voice recording.

Some systems also include additional features, such as sending notifications of a call to other networks. For instance, when leaving a message, the caller may have the option to page the user. Other integrated networks may allow the caller to send an email notification or fax to the user as well. By integrating multiple message systems, a caller has an improved chance of quickly reaching their contact with information.

Another important feature of many voicemail systems is the option to access messages from an outside phone or device. In order to do so, the person usually must call the number attached to the voice messenger system and wait for the recorded outgoing message to play. Then, by punching in a user-chosen or network-assigned access code, messages can be reached. The flexibility of the system is considered a great strength by many, as people can reach messages on a network from any phone or mobile device.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a EasyTechJunkie writer.

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