The Origin of Voicemail Service

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Voicemail may be defined as a type of messaging service that enables the recording, storing and transferring of voice messages. Voicemail facility has today become commonplace and is now a standard feature with mobile networks.

Although during the initial stages, voicemail served merely as an answering machine that could serve a network of phones. The technology has vastly improved and today voicemail can be integrated with email and other electronic networks to create a total communicating system.

The rapid development of voicemail system was due to the compelling necessity to fulfill a long-felt need. Business organizations placed were receiving several hundred calls a day and were experiencing tremendous difficulty in ensuring messages were correctly received and went to the right person and promptly dealt with. Voicemail enabled the caller to leave a detailed and clear oral message that could be listened to by the intended recipient at leisure.

There are quite a few controversies as regards the origin of voicemail and there are several companies and individuals who claim to be its inventors. Some believe that in the late 1970s, Gordon Matthews, owner of Action Communication Systems in Dallas, Texas, was unable to contact one of his customers due to time zone problems.

Necessity is the mother of invention and Matthews, being a successful and enterprising inventor struck upon the idea of voicemail systems. In 1979, Gordon Matthews applied for a patent for his voice-mail method and started VMX (Voice Message Express), the first company to supply voicemail commercially to major corporations.

Among the many pioneers was the young Scott Jones who found his first company, Boston Technology, Inc. He invented the voicemail system when he was hardly 26 years of age. Another version claims Dr. Steven J. Boies of IBM as the inventor of the voicemail technology.

There are some who credit Stan Kugell and Edward McCreight of Xerox as the innovators of voicemail. Many believe that Gene Richeson, Ken Oshman, Walter Loewenstern and Robert Maxfield from ROLM. Jay Stoffer or Delphi Communications also contributed partially for the invention.

It is now concluded that the voicemail system was simultaneously invented, in one form or another, by several different parties and no particular individual or body can claim exclusive credit for its invention. The first patents for network phone recording devices were issued in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Voicemail was the next progressive step from the answering machine in the evolution of the telephone communication technology. When telephone answering machines were ruling the markets, users complained of various limitations in its functioning including lack of message privacy.

The other serious drawback with telephone answering machines was you can not access messages when you are outside your office. Answering Machines is a tape recording device and as such would frequently encounter issues of wear and tear of the tape.

Shortly after the development of the first voicemail system, several companies sprang up to develop their own systems including Wang Laboratories, ROLM, Opcom, Octel, Centigram, Genesis, and many others. It may however be noted that voicemail was commercialized principally by Octel Communications.

ROLM Corporation (founded in 1969 by Gene Richeson, Ken Oshman, Walter Loewenstern and Robert Maxfield and later owned by IBM that sold it to Siemens) was the first PBX manufacturer to offer integrated voicemail with its PhoneMail system, and also predominantly responsible for commercializing voicemail.

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