Switchvox is the product of an interesting startup company in San Diego, California, called Four Loop Technologies. Four Loop was founded in 2003 by several very talented software engineers that had a vision to begin an exceptional software consulting firm. As they tell the story, “during our journey as a small business, we discovered that the technologies available for business phone systems were outrageously expensive and required a small army to set them up and maintain them.” Their solution: to develop a line of Internet Protocol (IP)-based telephone systems targeted for small- to medium-size businesses that enabled small and home offices to easily and affordably create and manage their phone system.
It also didn’t hurt that at the time these engineers were quite experienced with open source software—and that the price of PCs was dropping to the point that they were turning into commodities. The founders were also savvy enough to partner with handset manufacturers, Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs), and developers of complementary software packages, such as unified messaging and customer relationship management (CRM) solutions. The sum of these relationships added up to a turnkey solution for their customers. Their marketing plan was to deliver the product either as a software download for their resellers, or as a complete solution including telephones and the server, for end users.
The result of all this innovation is two IP PBX platforms—both compatible with the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), and SIP-compatible phones—that are designed to relieve some of the communications complexities experienced by small- and medium-sized businesses, as Four Loop Technologies had themselves experienced previously.
The Switchvox SOHO is a full-featured, easy-to-use IP PBX that costs only $995.00. It is sold as a turnkey solution that includes the server hardware with the Switchvox software preinstalled. Telephones can also be purchased with the system; if they are, they will come preconfigured to operate on the Switchvox system. But then, the product is built upon open source software standards, so it is compatible with all SIP-compatible hardware and softphones, as well as analog telephone sets.
The Switchvox architecture is designed for simplicity, and does not require a network engineer on staff to install, configure, or maintain. On the network side, the Switchvox connects to a local router for VoIP calls via the Internet, and to analog or digital trunks (including T-1 trunks operating at 1.544 Mbps) for calls via the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). On the station side, the Switchvox connects via a local router to SIP-based IP telephones, or to analog telephones via an analog telephone adapter, or ATA. The ATA turns an analog telephone into a SIP-compatible telephone. Cordless telephones, which are typically analog, would require an ATA for connection into the Switchvox system.
For a system with such a low entry price point, the standard feature set is truly impressive:
- Conference bridge: Establishes advanced conference rooms with user-defined private access codes.
- Busy call rules: : Sets up different messages to play when users are on a call (instead of the normal voicemail recordings).
- Extension groups: : Extensions can be partitioned into business groups to help organize communications.
- Voicemail forwarding: : The Switchvox can automatically forward messages to other users or groups on the system when a message is received.
- Call API: : Allows external programs to send commands to the Switchvox, and these commands to trigger the IP PBX to perform certain tasks.
- Call center statistics: : Real-time graphs and statistics provide valuable insight into the performance of agents.
- Paging and intercom: : Enables groups of users to be contacted easily using one-way paging or two-way intercom features.
The higher end Switchvox SMB system is priced at $2,495.00, and offers a Call Event Notification API (application programming interface), which allows companies to integrate their IP telephone system with other business applications or databases, such as contact directories like Microsoft Outlook, or order tracking software. This product also includes a real-time call control panel, which allows users to direct calls to other extensions, determine if other users are currently on a call, and display information from other applications as the call is received. The Switchvox SMB is also sold as a turnkey system, with the software preconfigured on the server, making for easier installation.
Further details on the Switchvox architecture and products can be found at www.switchvox.com. Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors’ architectures.
Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2006 DigiNet ® Corporation, All Rights Reserved
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet ® Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.