Davidoff777 - Fotolia

What is voicemail and how does it work?

Voicemail capabilities have evolved since the early days of answering machines. Learn what voicemail is and how features have advanced as the technology became digital.

Voicemail is a digitally recorded message. When you dial someone and they aren't there, you record into a digital mailbox a digitally stored voice message to be retrieved by the owner of the mailbox. While voicemail functionality has advanced in the digital age, all systems are similar. Adding unified communications, or UC, to the mix can take voicemail even further.

In older analog systems, listening to messages was sequential. Messages are stored on a system until they are retrieved -- provided the mailbox isn't full. However, analog voicemail systems are essentially basic recorders with limited features. The digitization of voicemail systems offers greater features as packets can hold any information that can be digitally transmitted. Learn what voicemail is and the features that constitute a voicemail system.

Common voicemail features

Voicemail system functionality does vary. At minimum, voicemail systems should support custom greetings; alternative greetings, like an out-of-office message; and busy greetings, as well as ideally supporting the ability to schedule greetings with an expiration reminder. The latter is particularly helpful for out-of-office greetings.

Many systems support distribution lists so that messages can be left for entire departments. Messages can also generally be tagged as urgent for important matters.

Voicemail systems should also support anywhere access and have the standard delete and archive capabilities. Additional features that aren't requirements but are nice to have include the ability to recall a voicemail if accidentally sent to the wrong person and the ability to hear a message envelope, which includes information such as date, time and phone number.

While voicemail functionality has advanced in the digital age, all systems are similar. Adding unified communications to the mix can take voicemail even further.

What is visual voicemail?

Since voicemail messages today are digital, they are now data packets. Data packets can be forwarded and processed in ways that were not possible in the analog world. Visual voicemail can provide a written transcript in your email, messaging application or other destination, which offers advantages for mobile users. For example, personal attendants can read your voicemail as you are traveling.

Visual voicemail also enables users to listen to voicemail in any order, provides one-click response technologies, updates your contacts with information from the voicemail and even sends an email as response. These capabilities make voicemail more like email systems.

How does UC advance voicemail?

Imagine seeing all of your voicemails laid out on a screen with caller info, callback number, email contact and the first few lines of the voicemail. UC brings all the of the communications pieces together, such as voice, messaging, video and file sharing, under a singular platform or tightly integrated stack.

Mobility is a key service with UC so that, no matter where employees are in the world, they can access the same resources defined within the system. Essentially, UC becomes voicemail all grown up.

Dig Deeper on VoIP and IP telephony