A Poor Man's Hack For Improving Mobile Voicemail
by Brian McConnell
1. a caller leaves a voice mail for you
2. voice mail system sends an SMS service message (e.g. "Msg from 4155551234 (John Doe) at 1:36pm")
3. service message contains callback number to hear that specific message and/or URL for the audio file
4. if handset is smart, it fetches the audio file in background, displays it in a conventional inbox arrangement
5. if handset is dumb, it just displays the SMS message, you do a callback to a DID that plays that specific message when you call that DID from your mobile. With a pool of 100-200 DIDs, the phone company can provide random access to voice mail easily (if someone has more than 100 messages in their inbox, something's wrong). if something goes wrong, the voice mail system defaults back to the usual sequential playback sequence
NOTE: an even better option is just to use MMS, it's widely available now, but I use SMS to illustrate how this can be made backward compatible with really old handsets.
I am sure I am not the only person to have thought of this, and that somebody, somewhere has probably done this, but every voice mail system I've used in the US is stuck somewhere circa 1985. When you understand how easy it would be to improve something so many people use, it certainly makes you wonder what the carriers are thinking, if they're doing anything besides cashing checks.
In the Philippines, a local operator used this service to introduce cheap long distance calls. So instead of dialing a fully qualified E.164 number, the user simply SMSed the number he/she wants to call to a short code. The system tends calls both numbers and connects the call.
I'm doing something like this right now, for my business, with an outsourced service from Virtual PBX. (I have no business relationship with them, other than being a satisfied Customer.) New voicemails left there trigger an SMS to my handset w/ the caller-ID information from the voicemail, and the message is sent as an audio file to an SMTP address. Right now, my handset is dumb, so I either fetch the audio file w/ my PC's email client, or I call in to the voicemail system (ick!) and listen to the message in the "traditional" way. When I finally decide to get a "smart" handset, though, I'm just going to have the audio files sent to a mailbox that the handset can check w/ IMAP.
When you understand how easy it would be to improve something so many people use, it certainly makes you wonder what the carriers are thinking, if they're doing anything besides cashing checks.
Before they cash the checks, I believe they laugh... all the way to the bank. The Customer / carrier relationship in the United States is so messed up, and until consumers demand better, and do so with their wallets, nothing is going to change.
I really like to know more about this solution.