Voicemail in the cloud

Our NEC voicemail system died a couple of weeks ago. It was going to be more than $1000 to fix it, so I decided to look at an alternative: a cloud-based voicemail system. AT&T is our local service provider, so I checked out their offering. It appeared to be pretty capable, and quite a step forward from the central office voice mail system we’d had 15 years ago, but I’d had a lot of trouble getting AT&T service properly configured in the past, so I decided to try a third-party solution. The service I picked is called eVoice. I’ve used the same company’s cloud-based fax service, eFax, with great success so it seemed like a easy decision. The cost: ten bucks a month.

When you sign up for cloud-based voicemail system, you get either a local telephone number or an 800 number assigned to you. If you want to use it for call screening, you give that number to your customers, suppliers, friends, and family. If, like me, you just want voicemail, you get your local phone company to forward calls on busy or no answer to the 800 or local number. Your service, in this case eVoice, answers the 800 number, plays a greeting to the caller, and takes the message. You can call eVoice at the same number and retrieve the messages.

So far, no big deal, right? Here’s the cloud magic: you can retrieve your messages

  • Via e-mail; eVoice sends you an e-mail with the calling number and an attached wave file containing the message.
  • Via the web; you go to the eVoice website, see all your messages, play the ones you want to hear, see all the calling numbers (whether or not the caller left a message), and delete the messages you’re finished with.
  • From your cell phone; there are eVoice apps for both Android and iPhone that let you do pretty much everything you can do from the eVoice website. If you have Wi-Fi coverage but no cell phone service, it’s no problem; the apps work just as they would if they were talking to the mother ship over a cell phone network.

A short telephone call to eVoice was all it took to sign up and get the system configured. There was a small glitch though. I’d set up two mailboxes, and, as I verified with a call to tech support, that means there’s no way a person without a touchtone phone can get to either mailbox. I couldn’t configure a default mailbox like I could with the NEC system. You wouldn’t think it would be a problem in this day and age, but we have a woman who calls us who has only a rotary phone. It was pretty easy to go to the eVoice web administration console and change the configuration to a single mailbox, which requires no input from the caller before they’re dumped into the voice recorder.

Then came the setting up of call forwarding. I expected that this wouldn’t go very smoothly, but even I was surprised. Here’s the sequence of events:

  • April 15. I called AT&T customer service and ordered no answer forwarding after eight rings to my eVoice 800 number. They said they have it working by five o’clock. When five o’clock rolled around, I gave it a try, and it didn’t work. By then customer service was closed for the weekend.
  • April 18. Customer service told me that my order could not be implemented because no answer forwarding conflicted with hunting, and my two lines were arranged in a hunt group. There’s no logical inconsistency here; it’s just the way the AT&T ESS#5 central office software is designed. I came up with a compromise configuration that removed the hunt group, added busy forwarding from one line to the other (but not the reverse, to avoid setting up infinite forwarding bouncing back and forth) and no answer forwarding from each line to my eVoice 800 number. AT&T said that this had to be implemented “manually”, and that it would take until five o’clock the following afternoon to be completed. I checked then. No joy.
  • April 20. I called customer service again. They’d lost the order. I gave it to them again. Promised implementation time was three o’clock on the 22nd. I didn’t get around to checking it until the day after that; it still wasn’t fixed.
  • April 25. Customer service told me that the order was still there but had not been completed. They said there was some problem with a new website that had been implemented for internal use. They promised that it would be done by five o’clock that night. Wrong.
  • April 26. Customer service told me that the order had been completed, and they couldn’t help me anymore. They transferred me to repair. I explained my problem. They said they’d fix it. An hour later, they had.

It works now. There is one problem. The forwarding begins after eight rings here, but the caller hears two or three more rings as AT&T transfers the call to eVoice. That’s not due to any delay on eVoice’s part; calls directly to the 800 number are answered immediately. The two or three extra rings are supplied by AT&T. Eleven rings is a lot to expect a caller to wait. In an in-house (non-cloud) voicemail system, the call is answered immediately after the eighth ring. I can either live with it as is, or ask AT&T to have the forwarding take place after six rings, meaning that the caller will hear eight or nine. Since making the change probably won’t be easy, I think I’ll wait and see how many complaints I get.


This entry was posted in The Bleeding Edge.


  1. voicemail July 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm #

    great to know how voicemail is working well for you! please update us about forwarding issue you have, would like to know how it turns out.

  2. Jim July 7, 2011 at 7:31 am #

    I am very happy with cloud voicemail in general, and eVoice in particular.I haven’t done anything about the number of rings before forwarding – which seems to be surprisingly variable – because I’m in the process of changing over to a new VoIP PBX. When the change is complete, the forwarding will be done in the PBX itself.

    I am so pleased with eVoice that I intend to keep using them instead of using the voicemail features built into the new PBX. While the PBX voicemail will send voice messages as e-mails, it doesn’t support iPhone and Android voicemail client apps.

    I intend to report on how the VoIP project goes in a future “Bleeding Edge” post.

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