Traditionally, Internet telephony and networking equipment have had individual markets
in the telecom and computer industries, and hence, were bought and maintained separately.
For a telephone to work with a LAN or WAN network, voice needed to be connected to a large
PBX and then sent through a gateway in order to be translated into IP. For this to be
achieved, much hardware and software had to be precisely integrated, which obviously
required much time and a great deal of technical and administrational effort.
Recently, however, companies such as TouchWave have built equipment that combines a PBX
with a Voice-over-IP (VoIP) gateway so that telephony and networking can be integrated
more seamlessly using just a single device. This revolutionary development, known as a
voice/data switch, will help small to medium-sized offices save money on long-distance
calls by routing calls between branch offices over an IP network. It will also save space
since it is much less bulky than a PBX, and will save administrator time and effort when
installing and configuring the equipment.
TouchWave's WebSwitch1608IP, a distinctive, orange-colored voice/data switch weighs and
resembles (except for the color) a typical 8-port concentrator. Since it is part of the
LAN or WAN, a single extension scheme can be employed, vastly simplifying interoffice
dialing. At the front end, the switch is connected to the telephone network and supports
up to eight PSTN lines and one emergency port (used in case of a power outage). A 10Base-T
port is also in the front, which makes the installation a little disorienting (most
Ethernet ports are in the back so that it is easier to connect to a hub without tangling
cables or extending the chord). At the back end, the WebSwitch is connected to the company
phone system through a phone block, and there is an extension breakout box slot, a serial
port, and a power chord slot. Each WebSwitch supports as many as 16 physical extensions.
Setting up the hardware was a snap - we just plugged the cables in the appropriate
positions, which was inherently obvious. The WebSwitch software (Version 2.1) on CD-ROM
was also easy to install. Even a person with limited computer experience could do this.
To configure the WebSwitch, we used the Windows utility HyperTerminal, since we weren't
able to use a Web-based browser, which we would have preferred. HyperTerminal or Telnet
must be used in order to change the default IP address (22.214.171.124) to the IP address on
your WAN or LAN. Since the "reset" command did not work, we had to turn the
power off and back on by pulling and replacing the power chord (there is no on/off switch)
and waiting for the WebSwitch to reboot. While this process was relatively painless, it
could have been improved by the use of a Web-based browser, and with the "reset"
command working properly. Also, an additional blurb in the Administrator Guide about
HyperTerminal being set to VT100 would have been helpful.
From there, configuring the voice/data switch was not difficult. The default settings
enabled us to get the WebSwitch up and running with a minimal amount of change - we just
affixed the appropriate groups, trunk numbers, and extensions, and sent the configuration
to the WebSwitch. Ring Groups could also be set if desired. For VoIP operations, we needed
to configure TAPI 2.1. When using Windows 98, we had trouble configuring the WebSwitch as
the preferred telephony service provider due to what was probably a Windows 98 problem.
When using Windows 95, we had to install TAPI 2.1 and Winsock 2.0 from the WebSwitch
CD-ROM, but had no trouble configuring TAPI.
The WebSwitch and PhoneLink GUIs were straightforward, and with a little help from the
Administrator Guide, we easily figured out the WebSwitch GUI. One of the only annoying
parts of this GUI was having to scroll across to see all of the Advanced Settings - even
though we were at a high resolution (1024 x 768). The PhoneLink GUI was so straightforward
that we could have managed all of its features without ever browsing through any guides.
However, the left side of the GUI is designed like a simple telephone keypad and the right
side is very plain looking. Although simple, this GUI doesn't use Windows conventions to
their fullest potential.
The documentation included a very small Quick Install Guide that administrators can read
while ordering lunch, and a short Administrator Guide that can be read cover to cover
while eating said lunch. Alternately, administrators can read from the TouchWave WebSwitch
CD-ROM. In other words, the guides are concise and easy to read, and except for a few tiny
omissions (for example, not mentioning VT100), wrong statements (the "reset"
command does not work), and errors in grammar, these documents cover the setup,
configuration, and features of the product sufficiently.
The WebSwitch 1608IP stands out from a traditional gateway or PBX. The features include:
- A built-in auto attendant that plays either the preset or newly recorded greeting, and
transfers incoming callers to an internal extension. It can be accessed by up to five
callers at one time.
- Normal call handling, such as call transfers, call conferencing, park/unpark, remote
pickup, and music on hold, in park, or on transfer.
- A built-in voice mail system with up to forty hours of stored messages that can be
accessed normally or remotely from a phone or from a computer.
- A VoIP gateway (optional) that provides four IP channels and supports the G.723 and
G.729A compression standards.
- Windows-based software that enables administrators to manage remotely or locally over
the network (SwitchLink); allows users to dial, transfer, forward, and access their voice
mail through on-screen controls (PhoneLink); and enables users to dial from
TAPI-compatible Windows applications.
For the upcoming 2.2 and 2.3 versions of the WebSwitch software (which will be
available by the time this review is in print), these features will be added:
- Caller ID on Visual Voice Mail (VVM).
- E1/CAS (channelized).
- H.323 (for communicating with voice programs, e.g., NetMeeting).
- Support for the G.711 compression standard.
With these new features, our rating in this category would have been higher. We decided
to give TouchWave some credit by making our rating a little higher (from 4.0 to 4.25)
because they added these features to the newer versions. Unfortunately, the rating isn't
as high as it probably would have been if we were actually able to look at the new
Once we installed and configured the WebSwitch 1608IP, we first tested to see whether or
not we could connect to an extension from an outside line with the use of a simulator. The
auto attendant picked up after two rings (the number of rings is not configurable), and
after dialing the appropriate extension, we were able to reach the other line. After that
simple test, we decided to dial directly from one extension to another in order to test
whether or not the VoIP functionality worked. Without the use of a simulator (in this
case), the voice data had to travel over IP in order to ring the other extension. We had
no trouble doing this.
We then tested some of the normal features associated with the telephone, such as
transferring calls, parking calls, picking up calls remotely, and conferencing calls.
While we were able to eventually achieve all of these functions, a weird phenomenon kept
recurring - we were only occasionally able to use the flash hook on our Radio Shack phones
successfully. We called technical support and were told to change the flash settings in
the advanced setting screen of the SwitchLink GUI or to change from Radio Shack phones to
another brand, such as Panasonic or Nortel. We changed flash settings but were still
unsuccessful in consistently getting a dial tone after a flash hook. However, before we
changed phones, we discovered that replacing the simulator with real analog lines solved
Now it was time to test calling from a computer to a telephone with PhoneLink. This
proved to be a simple matter, and the VoIP features performed adequately, but these
features were limited when compared with the regular phone features of the WebSwitch
1608IP. However, voice mail access was available from either the computer or the phone and
could easily be accessed from both.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
The additional features, which should be on the market by the time this review is
published, will address many of the suggestions we would have listed in this section. The
most important of these features is the addition of H.323 for communicating with
NetMeeting and other such voice programs. This addition will make the WebSwitch, and other
voice/data switches with this capability, powerful and revolutionary tools.
To improve the installation and configuration process, we wouldn't mind if the
WebSwitch 1608IP used a Web-based browser to set the IP address and other configurations.
We also wouldn't mind seeing a new model with the same flashy color but with the Ethernet
port in the back. A working "reset" command would be helpful as well.
Furthermore, instead of automatically needing two rings to reach the auto attendant, the
WebSwitch should allow one ring if the administrator does not want to use caller ID.
As for the VoIP application, we would like to see other features added, such as call
conferencing over IP. It would be nice to be able to call other extensions on a LAN and
then be able to conference the call. Also, there could be some minor improvements when
calling from a computer, such as having the ability to choose if you want to keep your
phone on or off the hook when making this type of call. Right now, the phone must be on
the hook when using PhoneLink (the PC-as-phone software).
Finally, we would suggest improving the GUIs, especially PhoneLink. We suggest
eliminating the phone keypad look and utilizing Windows conventions more efficiently.
Just a short time ago, a voice/data switch was little more than an idea, but TouchWave and
other companies have made this idea a reality. Even though there is some room for
improvement, TouchWave has made considerable strides in addressing this untapped market.
In the future, we are likely to see more and more of these products, and we will be
prepared to put them through the grind by adding more tests, such as using a Hammer IT
system to test latency. We also fully expect to see more revolutionary ideas come to pass
from TouchWave and other entrepreneurial companies.