There are two basic kinds of universal-messaging services: subscription and in-house. The subscription model is geared toward small businesses and individual consumers who don't have the budget to invest in the server hardware and software to run their own universal-messaging systems. The in-house solution is for larger companies and organizations with the money and existing information technology (IT) infrastructure to run the servers on their own.
For an example of the subscription model, let's look at a company called Messagepoint. To use Messagepoint, you don't need to install any new hardware or software on your computer or your corporate network. All universal-messaging features are managed through a Web browser.
When you sign up for Messagepoint, you're assigned a local phone number for receiving voice calls and faxes. You'll also be given a special e-mail address. If you already have an established telephone number that you don't want to change, you can have the telephone company forward your calls and faxes to this new number. The same goes for e-mail. You can use the Post Office Protocol-version 3 (POP3) setting on your e-mail client to receive messages from multiple accounts.
The nice part about the Messagepoint system is that you're not stuck with one Messagepoint phone number. You can program the system to "follow" you or "find" you on any telephone number in the world.
Messagepoint charges $20 a month for their premium service and $30 a month for their business service. Premium services include standard universal-messaging features like fax to e-mail, e-mail over the phone and voice mail to e-mail. Business services include features like "follow me" and "find me" call routing and text-message notifications.
The Nortel CallPilot system is an example of an in-house universal-messaging solution. To use the system, you'll need to buy the CallPilot server that runs independently of your existing e-mail and Web servers. The advantage of an in-house solution like CallPilot is that it doesn't require any changes to your existing e-mail server. It also doesn't require additional software.
CallPilot integrates with popular e-mail clients via a simple software plug-in. Users can access its messaging features through the e-mail client, through a Web interface or through any phone. Over the phone, CallPilot allows you to navigate the system using voice commands and can read back e-mails using text-to-speech. System administrators can manage the system and issue reports using any Web browser, inside or outside of the local area network.
CallPilot is available in several sizes, depending on the organization's size and messaging needs. On the low end is the CallPilot Mini which only allows for 200 total users. On the high end is the CallPilot 1005R which maxes out at 50,000 users. Nortel doesn't list prices on its Web site, since prices vary depending on the client's specific messaging needs.
We hope this has been a useful introduction to the world of universal messaging.
For lots more information about universal messaging and related topics, check out the links below.