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Visual voicemail: A super example of Britain’s lazy, inept, innovation-less mobile operators

I have an iPhone on each of the following UK networks:

– o2
– Orange
– Three
– Vodafone

Only one of those networks, o2, has actually installed the gubbings on their network  to enable Apple’s visual voicemail service.

The rest of the operators couldn’t be bothered.

I mean that, quite literally.

Voicemail — as I highlighted in the Future of Voicemail video series last year — hasn’t changed for about 15 years. Indeed, some of the equipment and services running on some networks is almost that old.

Apple prompted a small revolution in the voicemail marketplace with the introduction of their visual voicemail service. Similar concepts had been around before, but none had been so beautifully conceived or so well presented into the consumer consciousness. The ability to browse your voicemail messages and choose the ones you’d like to hear first contributed significantly to the ‘oh my god that’s amazing moment’ that many in the mobile world experienced at the introduction of the first generation iPhone.


Every o2 customer got the brilliance of visual voicemail when they signed up for the service.

Then when Apple permitted the other operators here in the UK to supply the iPhone, they didn’t require visual voicemail compatibility. They obviously left this to the operators themselves to deal with, assuming that, well… of course these operators would want to offer customers the best possible experience. And, of course, they’d probably see what had been done on the iPhone and want to extend those services to other devices used by their customers. Of course. This wasn’t Apple’s concern.

Apple got on with marketing and developing new products.

The ‘non-exclusive’ operators (Orange/Voda/Three/TMO)  carried on doing nothing.

You won’t be surprised to hear that product managers and senior executives at each of these operators have been busy doing nothing. You know, having lunch meetings, off-site days, strategic reviews, product development seminars and lots and lots of meetings to discuss visual voicemail.

First and foremost, should they bother blowing the cash to give their iPhone customers visual voicemail?



Why not?

Well — when they launched the iPhone, nobody actually noticed visual voicemail wasn’t supported.

I did.

I was entirely disappointed to see that the voicemail feature on my Three, Orange and Vodafone iPhones is simply a button. You tap ‘voicemail’ on the Phone menu and instead of seeing the visual voicemail layout, you… well, your iPhone calls your voicemail. Like how your feature phone from 1998 used to work.

Is it a big problem?


And this is why the operators haven’t bothered. This is why those product development discussion forums with sandwiches and biscuits yielded nothing.

Because the operators were thinking cash.

Why bother spending the cash implementing visual voicemail for just one (albeit reasonably popular) smartphone on their network? Nobody’s really complaining — and if they do complain on Twitter, just recommend they download HulloMail. Everyone’s a winner, right?


It’s about innovation. This is one of the fundamental problems with the sodding UK marketplace. It’s filled with complacent couldn’t-give-a-toss operators shovelling the same mildly shit services to their consumers each year.

Show me the innovation in the UK marketplace?

There was a study done recently — I cannot for the life of me find it — but it was about mobile data. I think it was an operator in Asia that did the study, although I also seem to remember it being a British operator. Forgive me, I can’t remember.  Anyway, there’s a point I’d like to make with it. The research went along this lines:

“Would you spend more money on better quality data services?”

The majority of people interviewed said yes.

This shocked the operator in question to their core.

They really didn’t expect people to actually say yes, such was their assumption that all the consumer cares about is price. Which means there’s no point investing in anything new because you assume nobody wants to pay for. With few exceptions, this is precisely what goes on in the UK marketplace, right? If anything, it’s the other way around — with operators panicking about mobile data and trying to reduce their expenditure and network expansion exposure costs [Witness T-Mobile UK deciding to make ‘fair use unlimited data’ mean 500mb].

Whatever country the study was from it doesn’t matter. I firmly believe that much of the UK’s mobile consumers will be delighted to pay more for better stuff.

It’s only about price when you can’t, don’t or won’t make it about anything else.

Back to voicemail.

I’m surprised at Three. You’d have expected a challenger brand like them to have sorted out visual voicemail for every sodding smartphone in their ranks. Goodness me it’s not difficult. 5 minutes on the phone to Shawn Barber at Acision will sort it. Or a quick chat with Andy and the team at HulloMail. It’ll be sorted in a jiffy. Yes there’s going to be some budget required, but come on — innovation, anybody? Three clearly still can’t decide whether it’s chasing the triple-A £50-100/month customers who want brilliant data services or the market’s Vicky Pollards delivering 2p per month ARPU.

If we can’t get visual voicemail working for the UK’s smartphones, how the hell are we meant to finally see 4G arrive? Or multi-sim service with the same phone number? Or distributed SMS services that arrive on every one of your phones? Or international roaming that doesn’t require you to spunk a month’s wages uploading a photo to Flickr in Spain?

It’s a sad, sad state of affairs, it really is.

What would it take to deploy visual voicemail to every… BlackBerry, Nokia (smartphone), WP7, Android and iPhone in the UK? I can think of a bucketload of suppliers who’d be delighted to assist. You either put a client on the device (or encourage consumers to do so themselves) or you make the device’s existing API capabilities tie straight into the network.

This is not rocket science.

And frankly, if we’re talking about ‘visual voicemail’ within a mile of the word ‘innovation’, we’ve already got a big, big problem.

Only this evening I was sitting on the train naively assuming that I’d be able to phone my wife without incident. The train travels at about 30mph generally. It plods through stations and the journey takes about 35 minutes. I rarely actually talk on the phone during the regular journey just because I’ve typically got other stuff going on with email and so on.

But today I thought I’d try a phone conversation with my wife. Little baby Archie’s got some teeth on the way so he’s not been keeping too well — I thought I’d enquire as to his status.

And — like the geek I am — I did some real time processing of my mobile situation. I recognised that at 30mph the hand-over between the DECREPIT piece-of-shit UK phone networks should be able to cope with me swapping from cell to cell no problem. I understand that at 110mph or similar, it’s sometimes a weee bit difficult to keep a call open when you’re having to contend with multiple blackspots, tunnels and when you’re traveling through multiple cells every minute.

But at a leisurely 30mph, I thought I’d be fine.

I was cut off three times.

Three flipping times.

And I had all that sodding audio bollocks to deal with. You know, where my wife suddenly starts sounding like a Dalek. Or when I have to keep on saying ‘are you there’ because you can’t hear properly.

After the third time I just sent her a text. “Rubbish signal.”

She replied “OK.”

How sad is it that in 2011, we still accept this?

The lack of innovation, they lack of measurable improvement, the total (unintentional) disregard for the betterment of the marketplace… it’s simply breathtaking.

Surely it’s not all about money?

What the hell are all these product managers doing out there? Standing, staring at the wall, going home at 430pm and not bothering to face up to the ‘tough’ innovation questions like visual voicemail?

It’s not just visual voicemail. It’s the whole raft of things that you and I would love to see.

A little while ago, I was appalled to see a bollocks T-Mobile advertisement in the newspaper where the company tried to differentiate it’s iPhone offering by explaining that if you buy an iPhone on their network, they’ll let you change your ‘Flexible Boosters’ each month.

Total flipping bollocks.

“That’s it?” I wrote, “That’s all your product teams can come up with?” Buy an iPhone from us and we’ll… we’ll let you change your ‘unlimited landline calls’ to ‘unlimited texts’ or ‘same network calls’ each month. Rubbish. Absolute rubbish.

So uninspiring that I thought it was about time I explained what I’d like to see in terms of innovation. So I wrote a post off the top of my head: “Here’s what I’d like from T-Mobile (or any UK operator!)

I was so incensed that I actually wrote the whole post on the train using the BlackBerry. (The very same one that I can’t make calls on).

To all the product managers, market segmentation geniuses and business analysts, could you please put the following in your pipe and smoke it:

I’m in dream mode now. Here are some advertising messages I’d really like to see [in place of the uninspired shit they’d published]:

– At T-Mobile, we’ve prioritised our iPhone traffic so Facebook will load 28% faster than Vodafone, Orange or o2 customers with the same phone.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve peered directly with top sites like Google, Facebook and Yahoo. So your smartphone accesses those sites roughly 2-seconds faster than anyone else.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve upgraded our network with Nokia Siemens Networks cellular technology that, on average, will keep your iPhone’s battery working 19% longer every day.

– At T-Mobile, if you put more than four devices on our network and spend over 100 pounds per month, all your UK calls are free. Everything. 0800, 0845, everything. For as long as you like.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve implemented data traffic shaping. That’s a complex way of saying your Youtube clips load faster and in guaranteed higher quality than any other UK network.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve implemented a special priority data access plan for our most enthusiastic data customers: £29 per month gets you priority access on every one of our cell sites. So you’ll always be first.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve worked heavily to protect your privacy whilst online. Use our network and we’ll guarantee you’ll never be a victim of domain spoofing. Further more, if you buy or £2.99 option, we’ll also automatically firewall every mobile data connection you initiate. Which means you’ll be safer online.

– At T-Mobile, we worry about the fundamentals: We have 28 people working 24/7 to make sure you will consistently get a better quality mobile phone signal, every time. No other network offers [some technology] to ensure your phone calls stay live. Which is why we’ll refund your basic service plan fee if you experience a dropped call in any given month that was caused by our own equipment (and not the sub-standard technology of our competitors — tunnels permitting)

– At T-Mobile, we’ve partnered with every leading venue, railway station and shopping mall to ensure you experience 100% connectivity when you need it most. Want more? Just £3 per month will ensure your calls are prioritised above our standard traffic. So you’ll never, ever see ‘network busy’ again.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve done a deal to put a satellite-connected transmitter/Femtocell on every train in the UK. You’ll always be connected.

– At T-Mobile, if you lose/damage your iPhone, we’ll replace it within 8 hours anywhere in the UK, completely free of charge. Provided you commit to a four year on-going service fee. And the next iPhone (5) will be free too. In fact if you commit to an on-going 5-year deal, every phone you’d like will be free of charge and you’ll qualify for a new one every year.

– At T-Mobile, we’ve configured our network so that if you have 3+ phones with us, you’ll be able to use the same number on each one. For calls and texts. Absolutely transparently. No one else in the UK can do this.

– At T-Mobile, we guarantee we have the fastest possible data connection to the internet. We have 12x 1 gigabyte connections into our four UK data centres. That’s five more than our leading competitor. Click here to see our live traffic register. We’re the UK’s biggest purchaser of bandwidth. No one, absolutely no one, is faster. (This would have me reaching for my wallet in milliseconds).

– At T-Mobile, we’ve integrated everything into one single point-and-click interface online. Everything. Geek? Good: You can do your own service provisioning right from our online control panel.

– At T-Mobile, we are always open. No questions. 24/7. Call us anytime and get us online via chat whenever you want. Period. We’re here to help.

I didn’t include visual voicemail in the list because, frankly… in my dream world we’d already got past that.

So what do you think? Is it time for a mobile operator that actually does some operating beyond the same boring, predictable services we’ve seen for the last 5 years?

Am I off my rocker? Or are you with me?

I’d very much welcome your perspective.


  1. It is quite simple, in ASIA especially CHINA NO-ONE uses voice mail. No one has the time to sit through their 38 missed called from telemarketers, old friends, and time wasters. TEXT MESSAGES are the direct and prompt replacement if one does not have email via a blackberry, iphone, or other smart phone on hand. VOICEMAIL IS DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD, (insert SPAM here). But what the carriers worldwide really lack is vision and a focused ability, or even the ability to have the nerve to try and fail. Tmobile-orange everything everywhere or as we frequently call it (nothing-nowhere) remember 121 = one 2 none 🙂

  2. Yes, am very much with you. And at the same time, am not as fired up about it as I’d been in the past. Yes, I’m in the USofA where carriers exert all kinds of controls to the market. I don’t use an on-deck mobile, and my post-pay plan has a few perks that keeps me in a non-contract status. I don’t see anything here that would change, else I’d moved from where I am to something different.

    Better, yes. I’d pay for better QoS for voice calls. I’d even consider paying for a “tiered web” approach were certain sites were guaranteed to work no matter what the network conditions. Heck, if enabling Skype Mobile meant that I’d be able to negotiate a data package where I was guaranteed a certain level of service, I’d be happy as beans and drop my “minutes and messaging” to pay for it. They’d win if the offering was better.

    Its not. And it seems that in many respects, we who know better are kicking against an industry that’s milking it for all its worth to users who don’t notice that it crappy. I called it “the definition of insanity” on my blog (http://arjw.wordpress.com/2010/06/25/the-definition-of-insanity/) and that behavior doesn’t change because we kick against the pricks, it takes the Apples, RIMs, and Nokias to stand for something besides “hey carrier, just get me on deck.”

    If carriers wanted to keep “my” interest and business, they’d offer a framework to all mobile platforms for a network connected phone book which connected to every IM, social network, VoIP, and LBS service via user-downloadable plugins. They’d let me see the network status (not just online, but what the cell tower sees) of the person I’m trying to contact, and then use network intelligence and the mobile platform I’m on to recommend the best means to contact that person. I’d pay for that… anyone would. Its relevant, and dang it if it doesn’t take advantage of everything they are already trying to stuff down our throats already in a much cleaner manner.

    Do they see this? I don’t know. Do they want to (if they don’t)? I don’t know. But it really is a piss poor shame that the basics fail so much, and what could be considered better, relevant innovations in having a communications terminal in your pocket is wasted on just figuring out if you’d keep a signal long enough to get the message across.

    By the way, like the web app approach from my iPad. Couldn’t reply in Disqus, nor get back to the regular/reg-mobile version of your site, but man, that’s some good work done there. Kudos for pushing the site to that kind of reading space.

  3. Just imagine how iPhone would be like if the operators got the green light to customise.

    It’d just be like any other mobile phone on the planet.

    Trust the operators, not just the ones in the UK, to be truly innovative. And even if they did “seem” to be, it would only be like a “mirage”, lasting only for so long before the ugly bureaucracy rears its head and makes a reversal on everything classy.

  4. Just imagine how iPhone would be like if the operators got the green light to customise.

    It’d just be like any other mobile phone on the planet.

    Trust the operators, not just the ones in the UK, to be truly innovative. And even if they did “seem” to be, it would only be like a “mirage”, lasting only for so long before the ugly bureaucracy rears its head and makes a reversal on everything classy.

  5. Just imagine how iPhone would be like if the operators got the green light to customise.

    It’d just be like any other mobile phone on the planet.

    Trust the operators, not just the ones in the UK, to be truly innovative. And even if they did “seem” to be, it would only be like a “mirage”, lasting only for so long before the ugly bureaucracy rears its head and makes a reversal on everything classy.

  6. I am desperate for HulloMail to pitch up in Finland. Even though I have just shifted operators from Elisa to Sonera, if they partnered with Elisa I would be back there in a flash!

    My wife asked me two nights ago why I was getting so pissed off. I was trying to get my voicemail on my N8 to work. Sonera, their about where Orange in the UK were 9 years ago, which from reading this, seems to be where they still are now! ARGH!

    I don’t give a monkey’s about the fact that China and the Far East are all about texts. I. Want. HulloMail. NOW! Here in Finland when you start a contract you have to choose if you want your mobile number “publicly listed” or not. Mine is not because I have no reliable voicemail service. I want to be able to have a system that people who contact me can rely on to ensure that I get the message and can act on it. I would like to have a service that would allow me to archive voicemails for later, easy retrieval. Texts are all well and good, but being able to actually listen to a voice is so much better in my opinion!

    The rest of the MNO experience is a little better over here owing to the scale of the market. With only 5.2million people in the country the network is better able to handle the every day strain, and when I have wanted to make phone calls from the trains, obviously while sat in the “mobile office” compartments, I have been able to keep the conversation going rather well. Tunnels not withstanding. Personally I would not be to fussed with the preferential web speed thing, unless I could pick the sites that I wanted this to go to, and the other points I agree with, but only because I can readily imagine what the over burdened, under developed, piece of crap UK networks are like right now!

    This is purely anecdotal, but I think that certainly in terms of mobile “packages” the Finnish operators do get it some what more than the UK ones do. They do not charge the earth for better levels of service but they really do seem to make an effort to make sure that the very highest end offerings come at a very attractive prize. And are what people are willing to pay for. No buying a million minutes each month just get some decent internet etc. But then that’s just my view!

    Anyway, Ewan, keep fighting the fight, I’m right there with you!

  7. The only customisation I would like would be to have the voicemail button launch alternative voicemail apps (i.e. HulloMail) for those operators who are taking the piss on this front.

  8. Totally agree Ewan. It really does take the piss the way Vodafone keep saying on Twitter that there is no demand and that there are excellent replacement services available in the App Store. HulloMail IS great but it’s not as neatly integrated as Apple’s own version and that attitude is an insulting abdication of the operators responsibility (is that too strong a word?) to their customers. Very very disappointing. UK Mobile market is definitely going backwards, and has been doing so, in my opinion, since the launch of the first iPhone on O2. The competition is less competitive and most of the plans are offering less for more each year. I signed up for a £20 pm SIM free tariff with Vodafone at the end of December. They are now charging me £20.42 because of the VAT increase; surely they could have swallowed that? Especially considered against their other outrageous charges…

  9. The interesting thing is, whilst I understand voicemail is a useful tool in B2C and B2B environments, the vast majority (if not everyone) of people I know (as consumers) do not leave voicemail. In fact, hearing ‘Leave a message’ will cause a call termination, with an SMS (or BBM) on its way instead. Some things are better discussed, and SMS is more direct.

    Granted, this may not be a full representation of the population (if a good mixture of smartphone-owning users with a smattering of normobs is a representative sample size at all), but heck, if some of the operator execs think like this, voicemail is at the bottom of the barrel. (I would however be interested on their stats of what the usage rate is). Why spend several minutes talking to a machine (who indeed likes talking to a machine?) that is potentially misunderstood and ignored when a text message has the advantage of clarity and a number attached to it? Indeed the only ever time we receive voicemail is from businesses.

    Though not having experienced the delights of visual voicemail, I will readily admit to not knowing what I am missing out on.

    Of course, this response is missing the main point of the post. Granted, this does not give the operators an excuse to not innovate for us consumers.

  10. I know what you mean Fai. I still get voicemails from any business I
    interact with because they simply don’t have the facility to text me. I’d
    much prefer a text like you say. But businesses haven’t bothered
    implementing that — and they haven’t bothered worrying about the reply-path
    either. Witness, for example, a phone call to say my prescription is ready.
    How flipping annoying.

  11. Would you not put any of the blame on the handset for dropped calls on the train?

    Handset choice can make a HUGE difference. Personally I wouldn’t bother attempting to make a call anywhere away from a base station on anything other than a Nokia 😉

  12. Would you not put any of the blame on the handset for dropped calls on the train?

    Handset choice can make a HUGE difference. Personally I wouldn’t bother attempting to make a call anywhere away from a base station on anything other than a Nokia 😉

  13. That’s exactly why visual voicemail is important. You see who the calls are from, and can prioritise which ones you want to listen to… You can go straight to the customer you are waiting for a call from.

  14. I’m sharing this article in Facebook… by the way, the other day I travelled to the Caribbean (dominican republic to be exacT) and I was amazed by their operator having Visual Voicemail and Unlimited uncapped internet for iphones for less than £25 a month. I was using my phone as a modem, using Skype and even downloading torrent files.
    Speed was around the 7 Mbps (way faster than T-mobile UK, which is the one I’m using); I was perplexed.

    Which operator do you recommend me in the UK? I mostly use data and need something uncapped and unrestricted to use Skype. Currently using Tmobile, they seems to blocked Skype (or any other VoIP) traffic, which makes my phone unusable for this matter.

  15. I completely agree. I left O2 because their network just kept failing me all the time. I would sit there with a full phone signal and all of a sudden a voice mail would appear?! Why wasn’t the call put through? I’d try dialling a number and get – “Call Failed” 15 times in a row. Staring at a full 3G signal and nothing is coming down the pipe. A map tile on the map app would take 2 minutes to load?

    Oh no Sir there is nothing wrong with our network, no one else ever complains only you. It must be your sim/device. Changed those twice and still got problems. 

    I change to 3 and get hit with no visual voice mail?! I feel like I have to chose between crap and crappier. 

  16. No, you aren’t off your rocker, and you’re right about the U.K., though it isn’t just mobile phone companies. Banks are the same (e.g. in *other* countries, banking software can often do things like bank transfers or fetching your statement by talking to the bank; in the U.K., it has to scrape the web, or can’t do it at all). So are the companies that provide Internet connectivity (that’s why there’s no fibre in most places, and indeed no cable TV across large parts of the country either).

    In fact, every damn thing is like this.

    Why? Because there’s a collective lack of ambition and vision at the top of big business and government in this country, that’s why.

  17. Absolutely spot on Ewan!
    I moved to Orange from O2 last year as I figured the reception would be better.
    Not so for me. However, it was only when I got the phone home that I realised –
    no Visual Voicemail. I phoned Orange asking how to activate it, “Oh
    yes”, they said, “We have had lots of calls about this and are
    looking into it. Visual Voicemail should be up and running by Christmas [2010]”…..
    YEAH RIGHT! Its nearly 2012 now…..
    Something else really irritated me about the comparison chart between network
    providers in the store – every provider but Orange listed the maximum data
    usage at 750MB, Orange stated Unlimited*
    to appear a cut above the rest. Looking at the small print however, Orange then
    stated *Subject to fair usage policy of 750MB!!
    I’ll be leaving Orange for the last time for the poor reception around parts of London and empty promises.

    Ewan, I loved your article and then realised you had written it!  Hope to
    see you and the family sometime soon.

  18. Expect to get a whole load of new hits on this article now that the former O2 3GS bunch are out of contract and  wondering what’s happened to VV after they got their 4S on new operators. 

  19. Exactly. Dumb schmuck that I am, just found out about this, waiting to find out how to cancel out everything I’ve ever dealt with on Vodafone. Come back O2, all is forgiven.

  20. I’ve had my iPhones on O2, vodafone, orange and now back to O2.

    Visual voicemail can be had by the now more feature packed Hullo Mail but I still enjoy the integrated function, only downside is that I’ve had notifications come in with a few hours delay!

    I think O2 doesn’t have the best 3G coverage but offers the nicest combination of voice calls and data. Other providers didn’t have this ‘balance’ and Vodafone, in my experience, has the worst coverage for voice calls. So many dropped calls!

    When I was on Orange I had excellent Reception pretty much everywhere and was happy, then when they started doing their Tmobile merging crap, I couldn’t get data working on my iPhone and iPad even though the signal would be 5 bars 3G!

    I tried out my iPad with Three and in very good signal areas it would be fast and seem to work OK but indoors, because of the frequency they use, data would begin to crawl and eventually give out. Bad signal penetration.

  21. Just moved from O2 to Vodafone after poor signal. Gutted to find no visual voicemail. It kills me having to listen to 2 minute voicemail when someone leaves their message in the last 5 seconds of the message and I have to listen to it over and over again.

  22. I’ve got to say I’ve been on O2 since the first iPhone came out, then with my 3G for another 18 months and the Visual Voicemail service was excellent although sometimes I would not get notified for a couple of hours!
    A couple of months before I got my iPhone I hopped to Vodafone and had to use HulloMail which pretty good. Then to Orange, with HulloMail again, still pretty good (but slow). Then back to O2 and I am using the built in Voicemail again. 

    Today, I found out that I had two voicemails only after I checked my Skype account and noticed that there were forwarded calls to my mobile, so I checked my iPhone4 and noticed only THEN that ‘visual voicemail is currently unavailable’.
    What is wrong with this picture?
    All that innovation stuff defeated by something as basic as letting me know that I’ve got Voicemail as soon as I receive it.

  23. Hey Guys

    After noticing the option to fill out the Visual Voicemail config in the settings menu on my iPhone I figured, Maybe I could configure my own Visual Voicemail server and have it on my phone. But after doing some research I found out that there has been a legal battle going on with Judah Klausner (Klausner Technologies) who owns the patents for it. They have filed law suits against Apple who settled and quite a few other company’s. Witch could be the real reason some of the UK operators are reluctant to implement it as they will have to pay for the license and we know how tight they are right. Apparently T-Mobile had acquired the license for Visual Vicemail patents in 17 European countries. Maybe the UK is one of them. but as they don’t even have 3-way calling yet I cant see Visual Voicmail going live here anytime soon.And Good post Ewan, 

  24. Agree with the entire thread of this post. personally I have stuck with vodafone due to suresignal which is innovation of sorts as I live in a very poor signal area. Noticed that vodafone seem to have implemented VVM in australia for iPhone 

    http://www.vodafone.com.au/personal/iphone/home/visual-voicemail/index.htmbaffled or what….My gut feel is that Corporate cultures breed risk averse people – as risks = fired for failure. After a while metrics are shaped to support an internal success pyramid – and if you suggest anything risky – you put in jeopardy the whole well being of the organism. Innovation needs to be driven from the top down – and markets are all about rear view mirror analysis so this needs bold leadership – and as we see in all walks of life this is rare and is usually something we train out of kids – so they will fit in and be accepted…..hence pace of change slow and usually dictated by those with balls….

  25. I have just signed up with Orange for an iPhone 4S.  I was with O2 and although their customer service is good, the reception where I was wasn’t.  I decided after my contract ran out to move to Orange, as my partner has an Orange iPhone and the reception is fine where we are.

    After a couple of days I noticed that there was no visual voicemail.  I called up and talked to Orange support, and they said that they were ‘currently experiencing problems’ with visual voicemail, and that they couldn’t say when the problem would be resolved.

    A week later (today), I phoned up again, and was put through to iPhone support.  When asking about when I would get visual voicemail, the iPhone ‘Expert’ said he didn’t know what visual voicemail was.  After explaining it to him what it was, and highlighted that the first support operator did know what it was, and that I was told it was currently experiencing problems, he still feigned no knowledge about it. 

    I refuse to believe that this guy did not know about visual voicemail.  If he did, then he was lying to me.  If he didn’t then the Orange iPhone support team are in no way capable of offering iPhone support. Either way it shows Orange have no regard for customer service.

    I have a 14 day period whereby I can cancel my contract without any problems.  The issue is the first operator gave me the impression that it was a problem that would be fixed.  Because I then waited, I am now outside of this 14 day period.  To me this is very underhand of Orange.  I am currently making a decision whether to complain.

    I have had the visual voicemail facility on O2 for about 2 years.  It is very useful and I would say a significant part of the service and iPhone can offer.

    So, I just want to warn people of making the same mistake, i.e. taking a iPhone contract out with Orange.  To be outright lied to highlights their utter lack of respect for the customer.

  26. I was told initially (several years ago now) that the service provide for iPhones on Orange would be the same as O2, I then discovered the loss of visual voicemail.  Having complained it was clear that no-one outside of O2 iPhone users really understood visual voicemail, including some O2 executives I know.  I launched a page on Facebook at the time to vent, but you have hit the nail firmly on the head.  If only one of the carriers where to take up the option of adding Visual Voicemail it would offer real choice between iPhone carriers.  Sadly unless you use visual voicemail then for the majority of users not having it is beyond their comprehension of how it can benefit you and be a godsend for business users when retrieving that message from a client.  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Visual-voicemail-on-ALL-networks/118621134851809

  27. I haven’t  I switched back to O2 as I find standard voicemail so unintuitive after visual voicemail.  I will take a closer look at these two thank you.  At least I now feel it isn’t just me who was frustrated with the lack of provision for visual voicemail by other providers

  28. Good article Ewan.
    Although its bad that other operators don’t offer VV, I was pleased that Three do actively plug Hullomail to fill the gap at least – which coupled with AYCE data does suggest they’re not after the voicemail minutes. Doesn’t really explain the absence of VV though – why plug another service, when you could implement the integrated alternative?
    I also agree with your point that Three are a bit different to the others, and indeed if they won’t do something simple like this, we’re pretty doomed!
    Hullomail is very good though – we put this on my wife’s iPhone 5 when she moved to Three from O2 and she’s very happy with it. At least we knew this would happen with the move – O2 never mentioned it in their attempts to keep her as a customer though, which I think is really odd. O2 do have a differentiater in the market with integrated VV, and if they don’t even see it as a positive, they’re really doomed!!

  29. I had a first gen iPhone on 02 and the visual voicemail was great – disappointed to see that it’s not on other carriers 5 years after the iPhone’s initial release.
    Having the first gen iPhone, although slow and buggy so many of their processes were “nice” – now everything’s just too convenient and it can be frustrating. slowly losing some of its history and visual voicemail is just a start!

  30. This was a good article until your list of marketing slogans you’d like to see which range from wishful to completely implausible. I especially thought this about any ones that included prioritising iPhone traffic, I can’t imagine any network alienating all non iphone (70-90%?) customers by flat out saying they’re second rate and won’t be connected in favour of the guy who chose a different phone… Hope this didn’t sound too critical as I really liked the rest of the article!

  31. Have been on O2 at work since the beginning of the iPhone era and think visual voicemail is great. Family are on Orange with iPhones and I didn’t even realise that they didn’t have VV!

    IT manager at work tells me we are moving our work phones to Vodafone and I ask him about VV doesn’t know what it is / has never heard of it!!!

    The problem is that most people don’t know what they are missing! How do we put pressure on EE, Voda, etc. to implement VV? Not looking forward to going backwards as var as voicemail goes ….. 🙁

  32. Nice rant, but O2 had an agreement with Apple to retain exclusive licence for visual voicemail through to the end of 2012. Did you really think all of those operators collectively decided to be lazy!?!

  33. Think outside the box, John!

    Exclusivity is perfectly fine; but there’s a TON of different possibilities the competing operators could have offered.

  34. If I were a network operator, I wouldn’t implement proprietary technology for a single device either. Especially one which is losing market share all the time.

    Yet another example of an ‘innovation’ that Apple, thanks to the joke that are US patent lawyers managed to get patented despite there having been significant prior art dating back to the early 90s (disclaimer – I own and use various Apple products)

    SO – the answer to these issues is to fix the broken Intellectual Property system (not just in the US), and make these features available to a wider range of devices (the gulf is broadening all the time), then if the market demand is there, they will deliver.

    It’s also time for iPhone owners to realise the world does not revolve around their handset.

  35. Just read this…in April 2014…and it’s still true. Shocking, saddening, depressing?
    Planning to abandon Vodafone’s rapidly deteriorating service and try EE, frankly there’s not much they can do to be worse than Vodafone…who once had the best network and now, well, network busy, laughable 3G coverage, ridiculously slow voicemail notifications, inconsistent basic network coverage on mainline railways…rubbish.

  36. A few years back I transferred to Orange to get better reception and also found their support staff “didn’t know what VV was”. I kicked off, said they were not supporting a core feature of the iPhone, and managed to get the contract cancelled.

    But it’s weird O2 don’t even mention their USP.

  37. I thought I’d just post here as, at the time the article was published I remember thinking “this is EXACTLY the problem with UK mobile networks and my god do I wish they’d start to actually address these issues”. To date, EE have only just started implementing VV, most of the others still do not. I STILL can’t make a call whilst on the move, even at a walking pace, if there is going to be a transition from one tower to another without the call dropping. I STILL can’t get hold of a customer services representative at a time when I might actually have the spare minutes to call them and I STILL can’t be certain that my phone will actually make a data connection and function properly, even when I have sufficient signal and data connectivity is showing.

    It is now Q3 of 2014 and, quite frankly, the fact that absolutely zero progress has been made in terms of service provided since 2011. Yes, we now have 4G and, yes, it’s a huge improvement. That said, it seems that this has been given as almost a platitude to the masses. “We’ve provided faster internet, what more do you want?”

    I’d like the basics to function properly, if I’m totally honest. I’d like to be able to rely on my phone to function when it says there is sufficient signal to do so. It’s becoming incredibly wearing spending the best part of £550 per annum and still receiving such an average service, especially as it seems to matter not one jot which of the providers one uses!

  38. I just made the mistake of switching from O2 to Three and it didn’t even register as something to consider that a mobile operator would not offer visual voicemail – I assumed that given that it worked on my iPhone 3GS back in 2009, I was expecting that when I got my new iPhone 5S it would still be there, but no, not with Three! What a complete joke. If I had known that the Three network was so antiquated I wouldn’t have moved network when I moved phone!

  39. And it’s Apple’s fault for requiring special servers in the operator’s network to do visual voicemail. No other network apart from O2 who had exclusivity at launch bothered and I expect it will die as a facility sooner or later.

  40. I’m on O2, & use VVM visual voice mail on my Windows Lumia, it is exclusive for all o2 users, it is not available on other networks, as they spend more time thinking about any new innovation, then a buyer comes in to change everything. Brit networks, need a more consumer focused product to let customers grasp what is out there on the mobile scene, they are to interested in selling & not rewarding the consumer with modern invention.

  41. It scares me that 4 years on, this article is still as relevant to as when it was written and the mobile operators still haven’t picked up basics like visual voicemail and wifI calling!!

  42. Great article! I’m italian and I noticed how VVM is not even remotely contemplated in here..

    Any of italian carriers support that service because customers really snub that though I personally find it useful and however it’s hard to me to confess the charm of a vocal message instead of a cold and often compulsive chat 🙂

    But as I read it’s not just visual voicemail. It’s about increasing quality on crappy services and decreasing quality on useful services.
    I don’t want the updated version of candy crush.. I want a visual voicemail!

  43. Another app is Instavoice (it supports free texts, freecalls and voicemail all in one app)
    unfortunately voicemail is not yet available in my country

  44. I have been an Apple product user for over 20 years (UK based) and had not even heard of visual voicemail until today when I got a wild notion to try and forward a voicemail to my colleague from my iPhone 6 (yes, it is now 2016) and found I could not. Sigh.

  45. I love that this is still an issue 5 years later and that every point in your T-Mobile wish list is still valid today…


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