Imagine this: The telephone line rings. The computer answers it. The
computer determines whether it is a voice call, a fax coming in or,
someone requesting information to be faxed back to them.
If it is a voice call, the computer plays a message telling the caller
to press "1" to leave a voice message, press "2" for your mailing
address or press "3" to receive a menu of documents to receive by fax.
The caller chooses to leave a voice mail message. You receive a beep on
your pager that someone has left a message in your voice mailbox. With
caller ID, you will know who left the message.
If the call is a fax, you can be notified by pager that a fax has
arrived. If the caller presses option "3", they are given a menu of
choices listing documents they can request to be faxed back to them:
product and pricing information, brochures, flyers, etc.
When you arrive back to your computer, you can play back your messages,
view and/or print your received faxes and check email. The computer will
dial the phone for those people you want to call back, send email
replies to people who wrote you email and send your faxes. All of this,
through one computer with one modem and one phone line.
Of course, you could keep your answering machine and fax machine and
computer as separate units with separate phone lines...
This technology has been around for a few years. In the past, it was
reserved for those who had large budgets for computer equipment. Today,
the cost of the equipment has come down and the technology has improved
tremendously. We are less afraid. We certainly have become accustomed to
answering machines, fax machines and voice mail (press "1" for Joe or
press "2" to order).
With a computer, a single piece of software, a modem, a phone and a
phone line, we can stop imagining and use the technology to achieve
Phone lines, fax lines, internet and email lines; how many lines do we
need? Realize that this depends upon how much time you'll be spending
talking on the phone, sending and receiving faxes and how long you will
spend on the internet at any given time.
Although a single phone line can be shared by all of these functions, if
you're talking on the phone, you won't be able to receive or send a fax.
If you are browsing the web, you won't be able to receive phone calls.
Most people get one extra line in addition to their voice line. The
extra line is used for incoming and outgoing faxes and internet/online
functions. However, those who receive a lot of faxes and spend a lot of
time using their online service during "working" hours, add yet another
What about optional services offered by the phone company? Your
telephone company offers other services such as distinctive/"smart"
ring, call waiting and voice mail. They can affect your decision as to
how many lines to buy and the method in which you set up your equipment
as well as how it operates.
Distinctive Ring -- This feature allows you to have a separate
phone number attached to a regular phone line. When a party calls this
phone number, you will hear a special signal - such as a double-ring.
Computer fax software can be set up to listen for this special signal
and only receive faxes when it hears this signal. Alternatively, this
special phone number can be used as a "private" line so that you can
distinguish who may be calling you (only those to whom you give the
number). It is available for as little as $5.00 per month.
Call Waiting -- This feature notifies you, while you are speaking
to another party, that someone else is trying to call you. Be careful
not to order this service on a line that you will use for faxing or
online services. It will interrupt fax transmissions and/or drop your
Voice Mail -- This service is a terrific alternative to an
answering machine. Not only does it take messages for you when you are
not available to answer the phone but, you can set up individual "mail
boxes". Each mailbox can be set up to receive messages for specific
people or topics (e.g. press "1" for Joe, press "2" for Carol, press "3"
to request information). Since your telephone company maintains the
service, the voice mail will pick up calls when you are away, when you
are on another call or, when you are online to the Internet or fax. This
means your callers will never receive a busy signal. Some phone
companies also provide a small box with a light indicator to notify you
that a message is waiting. This service runs about $7-9 per month.