Modern PBX phone systems often have lots of capabilities that end-users never actually see, since they don't actually directly use the PBX -- they use the phones that the PBX enables. That's a situation that VoIP vendor Digium is aiming to change with the new release of Switchvox 4.5.
Switchvox is Digium's commercially licensed VoIP IP PBX and was last updated a year ago for enhanced unified communications collaboration services. Digium itself is best known as the lead commercial sponsor behind the open source Asterisk IP PBX effort, which also serves as the base for Switchvox.
"Switchvox 4.5 is all about the users and how they interact with the system," Tristan Barnum, director of Switchvox product marketing for Digium, told InternetNews.com. "We've always tried to give them different ways to access their data and voice tools like voicemail. What we're doing in 4.5 is something we call phone feature packs, which extends the functionality of Switchvox out to the phone itself."
Barnum said that users can now find and activate new applications through their phones that previously they could only access via the Switchvox Web interface.
For example, Barnum explained that when Polycom IP phone users hit the phone's "services" button and they are connected to a Switchvox PBX, they'll get a list of applications that they can now access. Among the applications are fully searchable directories as well as visual voicemail and call recording.
"It just represents a really tight integration between the handset and the Switchvox system," Barnum said.
Initially, the phone feature packs are set to work with Polycom IP phones, though the effort will be expanded other phone vendors over time: Barnum noted that the system is built to be ported and uses standard XML system calls.
"We had to do a few special things, and that's why right now it just works for the Polycom phones," Barnum said. "There is nothing that isn't reusable that we won't be able to push out and do for other types of phones."
Among those other phones is a soon-to-be-released Apple iPhone application as well as one in the works for BlackBerry users as well.
Secondary server support
Switchvox 4.5 also adds another major feature: A new level of scalability, with the ability for a phone to subscribe to more than one Switchvox PBX.
"We can now expose a secondary server," Barnum said. "Previously, phones could only subscribe to one server, but now if your primary server goes down, the phone will look for your extension on a completely different host."
The secondary server provides the opportunity for Digium and its partners to sell additional Switchvox servers, giving users a backup phone system that can be off-site.
Opportunity from Avaya's Nortel buy?
With the new Switchvox 4.5 PBX release, Digium is also aiming to take some share from customers who might be thinking about shopping around in the wake of Avaya's integration of Nortel.
"Any consolidation in the industry drives people to look around for alternatives," Barnum said. "As well, people are getting more educated and open to the idea of open source. We see more resellers looking into Asterisk and when they hear about Switchvox, which makes Asterisk accessible to them. It's a good situation for us."