Ready to go POTS-less. Need good voicemail.
September 2, 2008 1:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a good personal voicemail service that can replace a home phone number.

I want to avoid having a regular landline, using my cellphone for all calls, but I don't want to give out my cellphone number to credit card companies, etc. However, I do want to selectively allow those types of parties (Doctor's offices, etc.) to reach me, since sometimes they won't leave messages for privacy reasons.

Here's what I'd like my dream voicemail service to do:
- Have local numbers, in multiple locales, so I can have two numbers in two different cities go to the same service
- Take messages for me, and send me a text message or email that I've received a message
- Autodetect and receive faxes
- Have a web interface (or something) that allows me to select a whitelist of numbers that I'll allow to forward to my cell phone
- And for extra credit, allow me to dial into the service to place outbound calls, so I can "appear as" my voicemail number when contacting one of these institutions, for purposes of activating credit cards or whatever

The whitelist feature is the one that I'm unable to find while looking at the websites of various vendors. Any help? Any comments like "I wanted this too until I tried it and discovered that it actually sucks"? Those are good too.
posted by dammitjim to Technology (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Thats quite the list! Broadvoice/Vonage will allow quite a bit of that, and tied with might get you a nice voice to text copy of the message.

Broadvoice will:
Local numbers on account ($3/m/line though?)
Takes messages, sends text and email, sends wav, (tied with YouMail gives you voice to text)
Faxes - Don't think so?
Web interface - No selective 'forward' feature (I dont think I have heard of that though anywhere)
No dialin extra credit.

Who did you find that does the faxes piece?
posted by SirStan at 1:36 PM on September 2, 2008

You are describing exactly what GrandCentral from Google does. It will give you a local number where you use it to ring other phones you own like a cell and office phone, but it also gives you voicemail and allows you to dial out via a web interface and I believe you can also call in and do it. It offers an online phonebook where you can define who's calls get routed where and who gets sent to voicemail. The only issue would be that since most 800-numbers from corporations do not come across clearly in caller ID, it might not be that effective for that use.

The other issue is that Google is currently not offering invites to existing users to give to friends. This might have changed recently, I'm not quite sure. But, GrandCentral is what you're looking for and if you can get an invite, it's free free free during the beta.
posted by cgomez at 1:39 PM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Who did you find that does the faxes piece?

Lots of voicemail providers do fax reception. Here's one: VoiceNation
posted by dammitjim at 1:40 PM on September 2, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, GrandCentral is very close to what I want, and the idea that it might be integrated into Gmail in the future is appealing. They don't seem to do fax reception (though I could get that elsewhere), and they don't offer 212 numbers, which I would like because I am vain.
posted by dammitjim at 1:45 PM on September 2, 2008

Have a web interface (or something) that allows me to select a whitelist of numbers that I'll allow to forward to my cell phone

Where I am at least, many big institutions have telephone setups which always show 'number withheld'. For example, when I call people from my work this happens. This also happens when the hospital near me calls me, etc.

As such, whitelist screening might not be the panacea it first seems.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:05 PM on September 2, 2008

Best answer: I use CallCentric. They are a VOIP provider and will work with any kind of SIP hardware you want, if you want a 'wired' phone in your house. They'll also just forward calls around to other numbers (at some very small amount per minute) without a SIP phone, if you want. I use it with a SIP phone.

First off, you can buy as many phone numbers as you want, and point them at your account. In the VOIP world, dialable phone numbers so that people can call you are called "DIDs". DIDs cost between $2 - 5 per month (more like $5/mo after taxes if you're in the U.S.; we get reamed on E911 taxes) and are available in lots of US area codes / exchanges and many countries internationally. This is fairly cool — you can have a whole bunch of phone numbers scattered all over the country, so people never have to make a long-distance call to reach you, yet it always rings your phone wherever you are.

Instead of simple "call forwarding," they have a system of "Call Treatments" where you can create rules to apply to incoming calls based on the number it's coming from, the time of day / day of the week, and whether your SIP phone (if you have one) is on or offline. So, just as an example, you could set it up to send all unknown calls to voicemail, but route calls from people you know to your cellphone, all while blocking all calls during the dinner hour. It's not infinitely flexible (I wish you could add an arbitrary number of conditions, strung together with Booleans, to each treatment/rule ... that'd be truly awesome) but it's way better than you get with TotalPhone.

They also do fax termination (i.e. they receive faxes for you and will email them to you as a PDF or whatever). However, the weakness in this — at least as I understand it — is that they don't autodetect and intercept all incoming faxes. For a fax to be caught and received, you need to tell them to do it (via a Call Treatment). This requires you to either know the number the fax will be coming from, or buy a DID just for faxes and route all inbound calls on that number to fax (which at only $5 a month isn't bad). They will do T.38 for outbound fax, as well.

I've had them for several months after spending a while researching the field (for VOIP SIP providers), and I've been very happy so far as a company. You might want to look at what they provide and see if it would be too much overkill for the price.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:53 PM on September 2, 2008

For you or others who want a 212 number: one of the rare voicemail services still (apparently) offering them is Lovox. I had several problem-free years with them in the early 2000s and, according to their website, they're still handing out the 212s today -- I assume because there's still turnover.

It looks like the copyright date on all their site's pages is 2006; hopefully that's an oversight and not an indication they're no longer in business.

They do not offer most of the features on your wish list, but if you need that area code, you could integrate them with other services. For example, GotVoice is a free, flexible, reliable voicemail-to-email service.
posted by kalapierson at 11:50 PM on January 6, 2009

(Lovox info page.)
posted by kalapierson at 11:52 PM on January 6, 2009

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