At Home With Switchvox SMB

by Dave Michels

Let me take a minute to express why I love my Digium Switchvox SMB system at my home.

First off, no one needs a Switchvox SMB at home. It is a bit like using a fire hose to water the daisies. Either the Swichvox Free edition or SOHO products would be fine for a home if you feel you need a PBX at the house.

I have access to numerous brands of phone systems. But I wanted a Switchvox for a variety of reasons. Mostly because I wanted the independence I see our customers experience with the product. Yes, I talk technical and act technical, but my programming skills are limited to microwaves and DVRs (and Switchvoxes).

Let me briefly introduce Switchvox. Originally, it was a separate company, but Digium bought them over a year ago. Switchvox effectively takes the benefits of Asterisk and improves its supportability. Switchvox hides Asterisk, completely. All the configuration and setup is done through the intuitive GUI. Yes, there are things Asterisk can do that Switchvox can’t – but for the general purpose PBX the Switchvox GUI is pretty powerful. The biggest complaint about Asterisk in the general PBX world is support – complete customization capability leads to highly unique implementations which are hard to support. Switchvox limits the customization and hardware options while simultaneously offering a wide variety of features and customization options.

Switchvox has excellent support. But more importantly there is little reason to call them. I find the system fairly intuitive and easy to grasp. When I do get stuck, I can usually get help from one of the techs at the office. But all by myself I have set up new carriers, dialing plan changes, and feature access codes.

The doorbell offers an interesting example. My doorbell hardware provides a “loop start” line on a separate port into the Switchvox. When the doorbell button is pressed, a group of phones (call group) rings and answering one creates a 2 way intercom connection to the porch. The initial problem was there was no way to display “Doorbell” on the phones, since the hardware doesn’t send callerid info. I solved the problem by running the call thru the built-in IVR (rarely found on phone systems). The IVR intercepts the doorbell calls and “replaces” the callerid with “Doorbell”, then routes the call. Problem solved.

I’ve also set my extension to forward my voice mails to my cell phone as an MMS message. My extension also rings my cell phone using the “ring all” feature. We have 4 computers in the house, all set for click to dial with Mozilla (Firedialer). I thought we would use the Switchboard more (available only in SMB edition). However, this powerful desktop application for phone control is far better suited for an office than a home environment.

I set it up so the kids phones don’t ring after 9 PM. I also set up some personal DIDs. We are using SIP trunks for international dialing. My 10 year old son updates his voice mail greeting fairly regularly. Unfortunately, the main line is still on Comcast (no call forward busy), but once I port it over, we can support 10 simo-calls (no additional charge for the capacity)- so busy signals will be a thing of the past.

I really like the Polycom IP550 phones. They look good, sound great. But there I am not so independent. The phones are mostly programmed by text SIP configuration files and frankly that is beyond me. Plenty of posts on my blog about how I feel about that.

We also implemented a family phone book on the microbrowser thanks to Darrick Hartman. Although most PBX systems have a phone book option, rarely do they support external numbers such as friends, doctors, pizza delivery, etc. Mine does! Michael White offered up his script to create a one-touch button for park-and-page which I hope to implement soon.

My complaints around the Switchvox are pretty unreasonable. We want a better selection of cordless phones from the phone vendors. I want a wake-up call/reminder feature so I don’t have to set the alarm clock. I want “Intercom”, our most used feature, as a hardkey on the phones. Also, I had a compatibility issue with Callcentric (SIP Carrier), but I believe that was a CallCentric rather than Switchvox issue.

The Switchvox has a strong feature set. Most of the industry charges a premium for many of the base features of the system (click to dial, directories, macros, callerid substituion, vmail to text page etc.). In fact, the only feature Switchvox “charges” extra for is their phone provisioning wizard, which is a nice solution for simplified Polycom phone configurations.

The system comes in four flavors: Free, SOHO, SMB, and Service Provider. The distinctions in the first three levels is difficult to summarize as they tweak features in various categories. Basically, Free or SOHO would be fine for home. SOHO or SMB are excellent for smaller sites, but go SMB once you get over 20 or so phones because the incremental cost becomes trivial. The Service Provider version offers unique features for that segment.

My biggest challenge at home is getting people to use it. My older son prefers his cell phone and my wife is demanding a cordless phone. There are cordless phones that work with the Switchvox, the best value is probably the Snom M3 – but I just can’t find the phone I really want yet.

Soon Switchvox will be releasing a new version (4.0). I can’t wait for that. They have been very quiet about exactly what it will do, but rumors suggest it will do a lot. The biggest clue is from Digium’s Mark Spenser in an interview:

“The planned Q1 release of our business-class telephone system (known as Switchvox SMB 4.0) will deliver a new ‘Web-aware’ unified communications experience — incorporating Web mashups with features such as voice-mail, chat, fixed-mobile convergence, and fax, into an easy-to-use IP PBX offering for small and medium sized businesses.

Not sure what all that means, but it sure sounds good.