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Monday, November 28, 2011

Controlling telephony IN and supplementary features by app

This is a very quick post, before I dash to the airport. I'll be in Singapore for the rest of this week at Telco 2.0's New Digital Economics event, speaking on both Mobile Broadband, and also on the telco-world implications of HTML5. More to follow on that topic another time.

I was out with a friend last night, and he bemoaned the fact that he can't easily adjust the number of rings his phone does before it diverts to voicemail. (He's using an Android handset on a major operator). He said he'd been able to do something via some obscure code like *7529# , but it had taken him ages to find it - and he's a serious geek as well.

It struck me that this is the sort of thing that should be done via an app, linked to the voicemail server. (I don't know if Apple's visual voicemail allows this, or 3rd-party consumer options like ON VoiceFeed, but this is just about the normal operator-provided vmail).

More broadly, there's a ton of supplementary services and other legacy IN stuff around in the telephony space that never really gets properly thought about, except how much of a pain it is in terms of ensuring backward-compatiblity. Why? Why isn't there a decent operator-provided app for voicemail, 3-way calling or whatever other features they've got? Who cares if it only works on some people's phones - and who cares if it emulates *# codes or hooks directly into the server?

It's this type of thing that Martin Geddes and I mean when we say that the basic telephony service hasn't evolved. You don't need to go to HD Voice or even application-embedded voice to make a difference - nobody seems to have sat back and thought "how can we make telephony 1.0 work better, given the tools we've got at our disposal?". Yes, I'm sure there are security issues - but sort them!

Anyone got an answer to why there's no easy "configure my voicemail" app? Or even a web interface through the operator self-care portal?

[or maybe there are examples, but I'm not aware of them. In which case, an alternative question is "why don't you tell anyone about this?"]


John said...

All phones have a built-in menu interface to configure supplementary features like CFNA, CFB, CFU, barring etc. I don't recall seeing one that would configure the amount of rings before going to VM but it wouldn't surprise me if it exists in some handsets. I suspect the reason that you haven't seen much development in this area is just that most people don't really care all that much and leave the settings on the defaults, although I'd concede that if there were a better interface perhaps more people would change these.

> Anyone got an answer to why there's no easy "configure my voicemail" app? Or even a web interface through the operator self-care portal?

You'll find plenty of these kind of interfaces in enterprise and consumer VoIP deployments (mostly IMS based these days of course), bog-standard in fact.

Anyway, I'm glad that operators are concentrating on HD voice, it's a huge jump in call quality and the sooner it becomes ubiquitous the better IMO.

Dean Bubley said...

Hi John

Thanks for your feedback.

The menu structures on phones (for voice services) are designed to discourage user intervention, not to make it easier (or, heavens forbid, actually monetise it).

And yes, while there's all sorts of cleverness you can do on modern VoIP platforms, the bulk of the planet still uses circuit-switched. Probably about 85% of fixed PSTN lines are still CS, and 100% of mobile.

That's not going to change fast, either - especially for mobile, where there are (as everyone incessantly bangs on about) 5 billion accounts.

This sort of easy-config app is exactly how operators should be hoping to drive usage of basic telephony and messaging. And it should be easy to implement - it's not exactly rocket-science in concept.

If it's NOT easy to implement, because of proprietary infrastructure and APIs, then it's another powerful argument to completely break the link between voice/telephony applications and the network. And to put the dialler / voice / telephony engine on the phone's apps processor rather than the baseband.


John Hamill said...


Aside from call forwarding, I think the other GSM supplementary services configured in this way are call barring settings. I can think of at least one reason why carriers wouldn't want to block calls from being connected on their networks. ;-)


Tim Barnes said...

Yes, this is nuts, and the proliferation of smartphone options hasn't helped. Having said that it's not too deep in my Android - menu->settings->call->call forwarding->forward when unanswered->Delay. Limited to the GSM mandated 5-30 secs of course. Look deeper than it feels when written down.

Anyway, to my point, likewise it drives me spare that if (when..) I leave my phone somewhere and maybe don't want the inconvenience of retrieving it, but would rather route incoming calls to a spare...I don't have the option to manage all this remotely. I know this would be relatively simple to implement as I've designed and tested the HLR supplementary service end of the *#codes.

Which leads on to your SIM tyranny issues. Taking the same lost/left scenario, in such cases it shouldn't be too technically difficult to self-register another SIM to your MSISDN, especially with a modern 'dataless' HLR where the coupling of IMSI/MSISDN isn't particularly tight. If there were MNP for IMSIs this could be any old SIM off the street or the top drawer of your desk. More convenient and kills the SIM tyranny in one stroke. You could probably even enable all this self registration on the phone with a special APN. [I don't know about the billing side, but suspect most/all billing is based on MSISDN anyway].

In other words, we already have the technology, and of course one small step on from this the virtual SIM.

The user experience really could be a lot better.

jason @ Voip said...

Ooooh! there's so much hidden on phones that we don't know about - apparently including a tracking device.

Well, allegedly! But there's so many rumours about hidden stuff out there that it's difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff!

Good luck out there.