Comcast Pipes Voice Mail to the Web

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Comcast will soon let customers tap into voice mail the same way they log on to their e-mail.

The operator later this year will launch SmartZone, a free, Web-based “dashboard” that provides access to a subscriber’s e-mail, voice mail, instant messages and address book in a single view.

“It’s one-click access to all of your communications functions,” Comcast senior vice president of product development Greg Butz said.

The concept is known as “unified messaging,” and while some private companies have rolled out the technology, consumer-oriented service providers are just starting to offer such capabilities. Comcast claimed that SmartZone is “the industry’s first fully integrated, Web-based communications center.”

One key feature of Comcast SmartZone is Visual Voice Mail: It lets a subscriber listen to a voice mail by clicking on the message, which then plays back from within the Web page. Users can also forward voice-mail messages as e-mail attachments.

At some point, Comcast plans to extend SmartZone features to provide similar features on TVs, Butz said.

“You could see missed calls from your TV, possibly your e-mails,” he added. “It’s that notion of providing customers the convenience and the simplicity of being able to access the communications they care about when and where they are.”

Comcast is currently testing a beta version of the service, which will be available on Comcast.net. The operator didn’t say specifically when it will launch.

SmartZone will initially be offered to new subscribers before it becomes available to all customers. The features will be included for no extra charge with Comcast Digital Voice service, and SmartZone will eventually become the default e-mail interface for all broadband subscribers.

The communications application will include a “smart” address book, provided by Plaxo. The address book synchronizes contacts among multiple services and devices.

SmartZone’s core messaging and collaboration functions are based on open-source software developer Zimbra. The service also uses Trend Micro’s antivirus software and antispam software from Bizanga and Cloudmark.

Comcast contracted with Hewlett-Packard’s professional-services group to design and develop SmartZone.

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