June 23rd, 2016 by Bronson Tang
Businesses are increasingly switching to non-traditional systems for their telephone needs, and one of the most important components of these non-traditional systems is the softswitch.
What exactly is a softswitch?
A Software switch (often shortened to softswitch) is a device that connects telephone calls between phone lines. This is done either within a network or over the internet.
Softswitches are central devices that operate via software that is run on a general-purpose server or computer system for use with PBX or VoIP telephone systems. This is different than how typical landlines route phone calls. With a land line, calls are routed through specific hardware that has been designed to perform this task. It is not unusual to see a combination of both traditional telecommunications hardware and softswitches being utilized in the same network.
Why a softswitch?
Softswitches have a number of benefits that make them more favorable to the traditional hardware. They have greater scalability so as businesses expand the owners and managers don’t have to worry about whether or not their phone system can take the increase demands on their telecommunications network and because a softswitch is nothing more than software being run on a general purpose computer system less hardware and less space are needed. Softswitches can even be installed remotely, so as long as the computer or the server has space a softswitch can be installed. This saves time, money, and space for those that utilize them.
A softswitch can usually be managed from a central web user-interface (assuming one has been set up). This interface gives a precision of control over the switch’s operation that cannot usually be matched by a hardware switch. This interface coupled with the use of any number of advanced monitoring and system management tools gives softswitches an almost unbeatable edge.
Furthermore, if the softswitch needs to be upgraded or expanded the most it will require is new software, as opposed to going out to purchasing all new hardware and even more hardware to support the new hardware that was purchased for the switch. This makes softswitches significantly more affordable than their traditional counter parts.
Another aspect that makes softswitches more desirable is that they were (for the most part) designed and created using Open Standards* this resulted in software that is easier to customize and meet the needs of businesses than would otherwise be possible.
*The best definition of open standards is to compare the customization of Linux vs. that of Windows, Windows and Linux being polar opposites in terms of being able to freely alter the software.
An increasingly important and major advantage that a softswitch has over traditional switches is that a softswitch can route any type of incoming call, and with businesses and customers using anything from IP phones to the traditional land lines this type of adaptability is becoming key to success in the varied and numerous marketplaces of today.
Some softswitches are nothing more than a simple routing system, however many do come with either the ability to add extras or with the extra add-ons already in place. Many softswitches even provide the extra features that were once the sole domain of phone companies. So with a softswitch in place, business owners can make use of features like voicemail and call recording without having to necessarily pay extra. There are even features that a traditional phone company cannot hope to offer like SIP proxy, presence servers, and on-demand report generation.
Due to the fact that not everyone utilizes VoIP, or PBX telephony systems know the different type of switches is crucial. Businesses need the ability to handle both traditional hardware switches and softswitches while maintaining control of services and of the amount of bandwidth being used by their telephone system.
Type of softswitches
There are many types of softswitches, two are most important.
Class 4 Softswitches
Class 4 softswitches (also known as Tandem switches) are the type of switches that are used between local offices exchanges and the carriers, or from carrier to carrier. This is often done so businesses can avoid exorbitant costs of long-distance calls done through the traditional land lines and the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Usually the main task of a Class 4 softswitch is to maintain and route large volumes of long distance calls without allowing them to be interrupted.
Class 5 Softswitches
Class 5 softswitches are a bit more advanced. The Class 5 softswitch is able to route calls through the PSTN. The Class five closely resembles the features and functions of a PBX telephone system and PBX systems are usually part of a Unified Communications Network. Typically a business itself won’t have a Class 5 softswitch; rather a business that outsources its telephone service (Hosted PBX for example) will be making use of this type of switch and be completely unaware.
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