A few days ago my friend Sridhar emailed me a voicemail message he had received. I played the voicemail right from my email client. Cool. Thankful was I for the message, but how did he do that? Turns out the SBC Unified Communications service lets you combine all of your email, voicemail, and faxes into one online message center. If you use Cingular wireless you can even combine your cel phone voicemail in with your landline voicemail. And you can get your email read to you with a text-to-speech technology if you are on the road and call in to your voicemail box. I’m not interested in having my emails read to me. However, what I really really need is to have my voice messages emailed to me, as audio files. So I can pick them up wherever I am as soon as they come in, not when I happen to remember to call in and check my voicemail. This last feature is a godsend to people like me who are online all the time, often away from the main phone and are terrible at remembering to pick up messages.
Here’s the good news.
If you are already signed up with SBC for your phone service, and already use their $8/month voice mail service, Unified Communications is only an additional $3 per month. Cheap!!
Here’s the bad news.
To take full advantage of Unified Communications, you need a PC running IE or Netscape. And, by the way, if you get to the Learn More About SBC Unified Communications page from the main SBCUC website, you won’t actually learn that Macs aren’t supported until you’ve signed up for the service.
More good news.
Even though they say that only PCs running IE and Netscape are supported, you can get a chunk of the functionality working with a Mac, running Safari. And, it may just be the chunk of functionality that you need. In my case, I was desperate to have the audio files of my voicemails emailed to me. This you can do by selecting message forwarding from the Web access settings page in Mailbox Settings.
If you bought your cel phone from ATT, even though Cingular and ATT Wireless are now the same company, you won’t be able to access your cel phone messages through SBCUC. You need to buy a phone from Cingular and get your ATT phone number ported over to the Cingular phone.
Maybe more good news?
I want my cel phone messages to go into the same voicemail box as my landline. My cel phone is 4 years old and it’s time for a new phone anyway. I’ll buy one from Cingular and see if I can get it to work through SBCUC. We’ll see… Update 5-24-05: I bought a new phone from Cingular and got the Unified messaging set up through the website, and it works great! I now get both my cel phone and land line phone messages to the same voicemail box. My cel phone buzzes me when I have a new voice message on my landline, and all messages get emailed to me. Yay! End Update.
And finally, the never-ending saga of Pac Bell service. Everyone who has lived in California and has had to endure the painfully bad service of Pac Bell over the years will understand this. Pac Bell is now owned by SBC Global and it seems that they still can’t get it right. It took me two hours to get this service set up and the information I needed to move forward on the cel phone messaging. I didn’t speak to a single representative who gave me completely accurate information. I got conflicting directions. I got flat-out wrong instructions. I got shunted over to Cingular customer service to a rep who had never heard of SBC Unified Communications. When she finally explained to me that I needed to migrate from ATT to Cingular, she couldn’t explain what she meant by, “migrate”. She couldn’t even hand the phone to someone who did know about SBCUC. Oh well. Thank God for speaker phones when you’ve been put on hold for an hour. While on hold I got a voicemail message from a friend who was trying to get through. The voicemail was emailed to me so I could listen to it from my computer while waiting for the Cingular gal to figure out what the heck she meant by “migrate.”