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How Universal Messaging Works

With universal messaging, stars like Kim Kardashian can receive and send their voice and e-mail messages all on one device.
With universal messaging, stars like Kim Kardashian can receive and send their voice and e-mail messages all on one device.
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Open up your wallet and take out one of your business cards. How many different ways can someone contact you? You have a business telephone number, a cell phone, a home phone number, a fax number and e-mail addresses, both for home and the office.

That's six different options for getting a hold of you. And that's not even including your instant messaging (IM) account, pager number and Skype number. You're like a walking phone book!

But does having all these different phone numbers and e-mail addresses make it easier to get in touch with you? It's impossible to be available on all those different devices and accounts at the same time. You'd have to never leave your desk, carry multiple cell phones and pagers with you at all times and be constantly logged onto various e-mail and IM accounts.

The reality is that with all these devices you spend a significant portion of your day dialing into all your voice-mail inboxes, checking assorted e-mail and IM accounts and walking over to the fax machine to see if there's a new arrival.

What if you could access all your messages -- voice, fax, e-mail and IM -- from one device? That's the idea behind universal messaging, also known as unified messaging. With universal messaging, you can read your e-mail, listen to voice mails and receive faxes and IMs all in one place. Even better, you can choose how you want to access those messages: through your computer, your telephone, or even a Web-enabled mobile device.

Not only can you receive messages in one place, but you can send them from any communication platform to any other communication platform. For example, with a universal-messaging system, you can send a fax from your e-mail account, an e-mail from your cell phone, or a text message from your IM client. Universal messaging removes the barriers that existed between different communications platforms, creating a truly unified solution for small and large companies, mobile workers and even home users [source: International Engineering Consortium].

But what are all the components of a universal-messaging system? Is it hard to set up and use? And who are some of the biggest service providers? Read on to find out.