THE CONCEPT TOOK TIME TO UNDERSTAND!
The original concept for voicemail was quite simple. When calling your party, if you receive a busy signal or no answer, you could record a Voicemail message! When your party finished their call or returned to the office, they could listen to the message and send a reply.
When people first heard of Voicemail, a typical response was, "Why don't I just call them again?" Or "How does my party know I left them a message?" Well, you could just call, and call, and call your party and you may eventually reach them. And your party could check for messages from time to time but that may not result in a timely delivery of important or urgent messages. And since telephones of the '80s were still in the dark ages, they did not have message waiting lights, stutter dial tones or other signaling features and notification was indeed a big problem! Voicemail had to find another way for people to be aware of messages.
Ironically, at this period in time, millions of businessmen, professionals and consumers were adopting pagers as a convenient, timely way to stay in touch with companies, medical centers and loved ones. Answering services took messages from patients, customers and other callers and sent a page alert to doctors, electricians, family and friends. The Pager was one of the keys that would unlock the market for Voicemail!
The first Voicemail application was developed for the airline and entertainment industries providing flight assignments to pilots and flight attendants and acting assignments to actors and extras. Many pilots and actors were already using pagers to receive page alerts and called their answering service or call center where operators read them their messages. A Voicemail - paging system interface enhanced the message delivery for these and many similar applications and would open the door to two-way voice messaging.
Soon the pilots and flight attendants, actors and extras were sending messages to each other and receiving page alerts that messages were waiting. And little time would pass before it was obvious to Voicemail that paging was the key to two-way messaging and that every telephone company in the world could potentially offer Voicemail - paging services. The opportunity for Voicemail just became global!
But there remained another barrier to the potential opportunity of two-way messaging! The initial Voicemail applications automatically answered the call and delivered messages corresponding to the telephone number dialed. Two-way messaging depended on the user being able to enter identification numbers and select system options such as start and stop, record and play or replay and delete or save a message.
In the '80s the availability of touch-tone telephones in the U.S. was very limited and in the rest of the world it was non existent. Public phones in the U.S. that had touch tone dialing, blocked the touch tones as soon as the call was connected to the network. Removing the blocking was a matter of convincing ATT that unblocking was in their best interest for increasing call completion rates and telephone revenues. The solution for rotary-dial phones was not that simple!
In regard to ATT, where was the industry leader during this revolutionary period? At a Voicemail demonstration provided to ATT executives they were astounded in hearing voice messages delivered through a speaker phone, asking, "How do you make our speaker phone do that?" Voicemail was very far ahead of the curve in its vision and understanding of the opportunities for voice messaging!
Voicemail's solution for ATT blocking and rotary-dial phones was the creation of a hand-held dialer that could be held against the mouthpiece of the telephone handset and generated touch-tones when the keys are pressed. There was an opportunity to sell millions of dialers during the several years that it would take the telephone companies to build and install touch-tone telephones in home, airports and businesses worldwide. The opportunity was shared by Voicemail and its Voicemail service partners.
THE EXCHANGE OF VOICEMAIL MESSAGES WOULD EVENTUALLY BE A WORLDWIDE EXPERIENCE!