American business, it seems, now runs on voice mail. But in Europe, the technology is virtually unknown. There, a lack of standards and touch-tone phone service have prevented it from taking hold. But that could all change with Groupe Special Mobile (GSM), a new digital cellular phone network that European carriers are rolling out this summer.
As the first pan-European phone standard, GSM opens the door for suppliers to economically sell voice-processing equipment to operators. Octel Communications Corp. in Milpitas Calif., the voice-mail market leader, has already signed up carriers in Britain, France, and Germany to offer voice mailboxes to subscribers. Germany's Mannesmann Mobilfunk even figures it can give away the service, since the cost is covered by increased calling. Other suppliers, such as Comverse in the U.S. and Britain's Ferranti, are also going after GSM contracts. But the bigger market--systems for private corporate networks--has yet to take off. Octel President Douglas C. Chance hopes GSM sales will fund the technical work required to penetrate each national market. If so, Octel says, Europe's voice-processing market could grow to $1 billion by 1997--about what the U.S. market is currently worth.