No one uses voicemail in India and the concept of missed calls

As you might have read, cell phones are being adopted at an incredible pace in India. Everyone has a cell phone and is always using it. One thing I realized very soon after getting to India was that no one has voice mail for their cell phone. And people don’t even get the concept of voicemail and its advantages. After vigorously evangelizing voicemail for a few days, I started getting used to not having voicemail, and even appreciating the advantages of not having voicemail.

Gleaned from my various discussions about voicemail, the Indian point of view seems to be:
-You can always send a SMS instead of a voicemail.
-SMS is less intrusive, people can respond if and when they want to. Or not respond.
-When people make a call, they want to talk to you directly – they are looking for synchronous voice communication. Voicemail does not help with that – even a long, chatty message does not. You might as well SMS and set up a time to talk.

What this means. When you get a call, you know that someone chose to call instead of SMS. So people take calls in the middle of conversations or at times when it would be considered rude to do so in the US. What this also means: you are not having to go through a voice message backlog multiple times a day – no navigating long phone menus.

And then there is the whole concept of “missed calls“. Missed calls are when you call someone you know, you let it ring only once or twice, and then cut the call. This is generally between people who talk regularly and a missed call conveys a pre-set message. For example, a wife might give her husband a missed call at the end of the work-day to convey that she is heading home and that its time to meet up. Or someone might give a missed call to a friend they commute with indicating that its time to pick him up. Or a student might give a missed call to her parents – so that the parents can call back (that way the parents incur the cell phone charges). People evolve elaborate signals through missed calls: one ring might mean they are heading home, two rings might mean they are running late.

Sitting at the Uzanto Delhi offices, I would often hear a ring or two on someone’s phone, they would look at the phone and then continue what they were doing. Its a system that works quite well. In fact, its brlliant: communication without explicit communication. What the missed call means seems to depend on who it is from, time of day, and number of rings. I wonder if cell phone providers can build some type of an offering that facilitates this?

14 thoughts on “No one uses voicemail in India and the concept of missed calls

  1. Same here. I hate voicemail. I like having an SMS sent.
    This way I don’t forget a thing todo and the SMS-list gets a little todo list on my handy.

    Finally, calling my voicemail for each incoming message costs money…

  2. Thanks for dropping by Phillip. Good point about the added cost due to voicemail. And I was talking to a British friend who mentioned that voice mail was not so popular there as well (which I had not known).

  3. First timer…

    I loved the concept of “missed calls” when I came across them last year in India. They are probably the cheapest communication tool when communicating through distance for basic daily/renundant alerts. I agree with you, there can be a new service created by mobile providers over this concept.

  4. Incidentally, the missed calls are a huge menace for the telecom/cellphone companies. Their bandwidth is getting clogged but since nobody picks up the phone, they don’t get any revenues out of it. I remember reading sometime back that some carriers were planning to penalise or charge people for missed calls usage. Not sure if it has been implemented.


  5. My winter break also got me thinking about mobile usage in other developing countries. Based on what I saw, I would imagine nobody uses voicemail in Ecuador, either.

    Also related – I called a friend last night (in the US!) and her voicemail said something like “don’t leave a message – I’ll see your missed call”. Of course I had to leave a message just for spite.

  6. Here I have “Missed Call Alerts”. If someone calls me and if I am out of reach, my network provider sends me an SMS – +919890793853 tried calling you 1 times at 3.00 AM.
    So I get to know who has called me and if i think its important I can easily call him up.
    Missed call Alerts and SMS together, are serving the same purpose of Voice Mail and it is cheaper too.

    Dhiraj Jain
    Call me (+919890793853) to be a part of Animal Right Activities in Pune.

  7. Hi Rashmi,

    The other reason why voice mail has not caught on in India, is that we don’t have a history of answering machines. By the time landlines started taking off, the mobile revolution was upon us.

    Hence the comfort with interacting with a machine to leave a message never set in. That’s the reason why voice mail also never took off.


  8. Another popular usage of missed calls while in office, is to call back from the landline which the employer pays for and hence save money for the caller. The audience for whom one might want to save money would be small since it would only close family and friends. However, the more close, the longer the call.

    So may be you will have watch out the bills of your Delhi office :)

  9. Mor wrote:
    >Also related – I called a friend last night (in the US!) and her voicemail said >something like “don’t leave a message – I’ll see your missed call”. Of course I had >to leave a message just for spite.

    I love this! I hate listening to voicemails so I think I’ll change my message to this as well. I find only 10% of voicemails to be useful. Usually, I miss calls because I’m intentionally not taking the call (i.e. I’m in an environment where it would not be socially acceptable), and it does no good for the person to leave me a voicemail since I’m not going to call them back anyway. SMS rocks.

  10. May be I am pretty late to respond, but, just came across this page. It’s a great observation. But the question we must ask is then what the user exactly wants?

  11. Arguments definitely have merits however there are contrary views:

    You can always send a SMS instead of a voicemail – it takes longer to type an SMS than speak (unless you are one of those quick typers…I hate the keyboard personally, especially if not querty)

    SMS is less intrusive, people can respond if and when they want to. Or not respond – MobiFlo has a service that is also not obtrusive and in fact does not even need to beep…when you receive an SMS your phone beeps…at the least one can consider this intrusive

    When people make a call, they want to talk to you directly – they can if you chose to with certain services out there currently (ring and if no answer goes to voicemail)

  12. I agree with Gautham. I have always wondered about answering machines and even if i did get one and install it, i highly doubt that anyone would know what it was. I can imagine my older relatives panicking.
    I had actually activated voicemail on my vodafone a while back and even though a few friends left messages i could not check them out because the voicemail service was not working properly. Shows that even if the people are willing to try it, the telecom industry’s inefficiency will prevent it.

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