Friday, June 22, 2012

How-To: Setup Free Voicemail on your Canadian Carrier Smartphone

For some time now, I’ve been meaning to explore options for free voicemail – especially in the Canadian context where customers may be charged $7.00 to $15.00 per month for various voicemail or call management options. Since my own contract with my carrier was coming to an end, I did some serious research and evaluated various options for getting “free” voicemail.

The caveat about “free” voicemail is that some of us might already have a good voice and data plan that we want to utilize for a voicemail system without having to pay anything extra for it. It just makes common sense – voicemail shouldn’t be treated as a paid add-on – in the current competitive market landscape, it doesn’t constitute a value-added service.

During my research, I came across two options that would fit the bill:

  1. which offers a free Canadian phone number and other complementary services such as voicemail and long distance.
  2. which offers visual voicemail applications for various mobile platforms and uses it’s hosted communication platform for storage and delivery of voicemail.

I signed up for and tested both of these services and decided to adopt the latter due to the following reasons:

i) Youmail allows account administration through a website and a mobile interface (convenient);

ii) It provides a variety of options to configure alerts and notifications for voicemails and missed calls (SMS/Email/Push);

iii) It provides the option to deliver call receipts to people who leave you a message (could be a useful feature for some use-cases);

iv) I like the crowd-sourced community model being used for collaborating on new applications and sharing tips as well as voicemail greetings ; and

I wasn’t bothered by Youmail’s sales team unlike who kept trying to upsell other products and services.

Hence, this How-To tutorial will discuss setting up visual voicemail through Youmail. If you’re interested in exploring what you can do with the alternative solution, there’s a good blog post tutorial available here.

What You Will Need:

1.  A reasonably good data plan for the following purposes:

         a) to receive push notifications for the visual voicemail application (you can configure the type of notifications you wish to receive).

          b) to retrieve voicemails as electronic sound files (mp3) through the visual voicemail application or through your online account.

          c) to setup or modify your voicemail administrative options such as greetings.
              This can be done through the visual voicemail application or through your online account.

2.  A voice plan that will allow you to access one or potentially two phone numbers that may be long-distance for you (within Canada). One of the numbers is needed to forward to your calls to the voicemail system, while the other is required to retrieve the voicemail and setup your administrative options (greetings etc.). With respect to the latter, as mentioned in points 1b & 1c above, you can retrieve voicemail and setup your voicemail options through the app on your phone or through your online account, and in this case, you will not need to worry about the second long-distance number to retrieve voicemail.

Note: If you have a long-distance plan or an unlimited calling to/from specific phone numbers through plans such as the Rogers My5 / My10, you should include these number(s) in that list.

3.  Access to Call Forwarding feature through your carrier. To my knowledge, this is already included in many voice plans.


1.  Sign-up for a Youmail Account:

You can sign-up for an account through the Youmail website, or alternatively, you can download the Youmail app
(see links in step 6 below) 
on your phone and use it to register for an account.

2.  Verify your Phone Number and Youmail Account:
  • The verification workflow involves providing your phone number and receiving an activation code via a text message on your mobile device. This activation code needs to be entered on the website to proceed with the sign-up process. In case you don’t receive the activation code (happened in my case), you can use the dial-in number provided on the website to confirm your phone number. This will allow you to proceed with the sign-up process.
  • At the end of the sign-up process, you will receive a PIN that needs to be used to authenticate your login to the website and use the mobile app. This PIN can be changed later through the website or the mobile app.

3.  Skip the Call Forwarding Step for Now:

Once your account is setup, you may be asked to configure call forwarding on your mobile phone. I found the instructions provided by Youmail for this purpose to be inaccurate or dated. This is why I would advise that you skip this step for now. We’ll come back to this later (see step 5) .

4.  Login to Your Youmail Account & Configure Options:

Use your phone number and PIN to login to your account. Browse the Settings tab to configure your account and mailbox options. The left hand menu consists of several sections that you can explore for various options. Under the My Information section, you can setup personal information details, change your PIN and setup a username for the community forum. Additionally, you should also take a look at the options in the My Alerts section to setup how you want SMS, Email and Push Notifications to be delivered.

5.  Enable Call Forwarding:

Now we’re ready to configure call forwarding. In the My Phones section under the Settings tab, you will find two access numbers. 

As noted earlier, these numbers may be long-distance for you. Assuming you’re okay with this, you will need to follow instructions from your carrier to forward calls to the Forwarding Access Number provided by Youmail.

In my case, the forwarding instructions provided by Youmail were inaccurate or dated. In fact, I received an email from Youmail with different yet still incorrect instructions. After some online digging (thanks Google!), I tested various suggestions and figured out the correct key sequence for call forwarding on the Rogers network.

You will need to enter the key sequence on your phone dialpad and press the Call button. Don’t miss the asterisks and hashes. While I’m listing various options here, in my case, I ended up using the BUSY/NO ANSWER Transfer option listed below.

  • To activate NO ANSWER Transfer:
* 6 1 * Youmail-forwarding-access-number # CALL
  • To cancel NO ANSWER Transfer:
# 6 1 # CALL
  • To activate BUSY Transfer:
* 6 7 * Youmail-forwarding-access-number # CALL
  • To cancel BUSY Transfer:
# 6 7 # CALL
  • To activate BUSY/NO ANSWER Transfer:
* 0 0 4 * Youmail-forwarding-access-number # CALL
  • To cancel BUSY/NO ANSWER Transfer:
# # 0 0 4 # CALL

Important Note: It is worth re-iterating that the call forwarding instructions provided above were tested on the Rogers network. You may need to follow different instructions specific to your carrier. Additionally, if you currently subscribe to a voicemail service from your carrier, you might need to disable it to configure call forwarding as described above.

6.  Install the Youmail Mobile Application:

Download and install the Youmail mobile application for your smartphone. Links are provided here for your convenience:

Once the application is installed, you can use your phone number and PIN to login to the app. Once logged in, use the settings menu on your phone to explore the configuration options (pretty much the same options are available through the website interface).

7.  Test Your Basic Voicemail Setup:

We’re done with the basic setup and it’s time for a test. Call your number from a different phone and let it ring until it goes to voicemail (hopefully). Depending on how you’ve setup your push notifications and/or email alerts and/or SMS alerts, you should receive an indication or message on your phone for new voicemails on your Youmail voicemail box.

You may also want to test the system in other ways to make sure all missed calls go to your new voicemail - e.g. call your phone and ignore the call by pressing the end key or call your phone while it is turned off or in airplane mode.

Through the push notification, you will be directed to the Youmail App interface where you can browse and retrieve messages in your voicemail and also view any missed calls.

8.  Setup a Custom Voicemail Greeting:

With a working setup, you can now play around with various options. You probably want to customize or record your own voicemail greeting – this can be done by logging into your Youmail account and browsing to My Youmail => Greetings. You can select from various standard greetings or even peruse some funny ones uploaded by the Youmail community.

That’s it for now… 

I hope this How-To tutorial will be of some use.
Do you have any other tips or alternative suggestions for free voicemail setup?
If you try the setup in this How-To tutorial, let me know what you think in the comments section below.
You can also fire me a tweet with your feedback on this article.

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