Switchvox announces version 5.0 of its IP PBX

Switchvox, founded in 2003, certainly qualifies as one of the veterans of on-premise VoIP solutions for small and mid-size companies. Its approach to the technology has, from the beginning, stressed affordability and simplicity of installation and maintenance.

But Switchvox developers, never content to rest on their laurels, have steadily improved and evolved the product over the years. For example, with version 4.0, released in early 2009, it took on unified communications dimensions, with the addition of instant messaging, presence, fax, and video telephony.

Last week, the company (since 2007 a division of Digium, the sponsor of open-source IP communications engine, Asterisk) announced the release of Switchvox version 5.0. Enterprise VoIPplanet had the opportunity to talk about the new release with founder and product line director Tristan Barnum and Angie Reed, director of marketing.

Barnum skimmed lightly over some of the upgrade highlights, which include international language support, enhanced security, and mobility applications for the iPhone and BlackBerry—with an app for Android devices on the way.

Reed then talked about what struck us as the far and away the most interesting innovation of the new product: fixed/mobile convergence (FMC). Only Switchvox is bringing quite a new meaning to the term.

VoIPplanet has always understood FMC to mean the ability of a system to hand off calls between cellular and wireless IP networks. According to Reed, though, Switchvox’s enhanced mobility—which, she stressed, does not depend on downloaded applications—functions “on any phone any place.”

“I can converge up to five additional phones on my Switchvox extension,” she said [that is, five in addition to the primary phone]. “I can automatically receive calls to them, and my presence on the switchboard stays the same, no matter which one I’m talking on. I can easily transfer and record calls from any of these phones.”

“You need to choose a primary extension,” Barnum explained.”It doesn’t matter which phone it is. That then becomes the number that finds you—whether someone dials your DID or your switchboard extension, all your phones will ring.”

Presence information remains relevant and correct, she said, because “Switchvox stays in the loop no matter which phone completes the call.”

None of the converged phones is running any software, Barnum stressed; it works with the ‘dumbest,’ off-the-shelf phone. “Our goal is to bring the features of Switchvox out to phones you would be using in real life, without your having to download software,” she asserted.

As mentioned any of the converged phones can either initiate a call recording, or transfer a call to another converged phone or another extension on the Switchvox switchboard. But how is this done, if the phone in question doesn’t have a transfer button?

“What we’ve done to address that issue is we’ve provided something we call an ‘in-call menu,’ ” Barnum explained—a seamless way to hand off the call between any of your converged devices. To invoke the in-call menu you press ** [i.e., press the ‘star’ key twice] “Then you’re going to hear in your ear ‘To transfer to your desk, press 1; to transfer to your home, press 3,’ etc. The person you’re talking to doesn’t hear this.”

The command **# brings up another in-call menu that lets you transfer calls to other extensions on the system or initiate a recording of the call.

Another upgrade that end-users will interact with and appreciate is a totally rewritten user interface that employs the latest development technologies.

“We’ve added on to it over and over, but never overhauled it until now,” Barnum commented. “We could have just carried on, but there’s so much good stuff available now, with Ajax on the browser side, rather than the server side, to make it easier for people to accomplish what would have been tedious before. So, with new technology and years of experience about how our customers are using it, we started over.”

Other new stuff is aimed more at administrators and developers, and reflects the fact that Switchvox is now seeing deployment of its systems in larger networks, or, as Reed put it, “our average system size is starting to increase.”

Accordingly, features are incorporated into 5.0 that would allow for easier configuration of group extensions.

Moreover, version 5 offers enhanced call reporting. According to Reed, administrators can get “quite granular in their examination of what happens on the system.”

Switchvox’s application programming interface (API) has been part of the product for a long time, but many new “methods” (i.e., commands) have been incorporated into 5.0.

“We see medium-size businesses increasingly using this feature,” Reed said. “Our resellers will use it to write custom applications. If they’re targeting certain verticals or they sell into vertical markets, they can customize Switchvox to work with third party applications and trigger events and have more of that CEBP [computer-enhanced business process] experience.”

Finally, with version 5.0 a company can have as many as five available routes for outbound calling. This both allows for failover, and the use of multiple service providers for particular calling scenarios.

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