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March 1999


TouchWave WebSwitch 1608IP
TouchWave, Inc.
994 San Antonio Rd.
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Ph: 650-843-1850
Fx: 650-843-1746
Web site: www.touchwave.com

Price: $7,995 for 8 trunk, 16 ext. (4 channel VoIP)

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.5
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.25
GUI: 3.75
Overall Grade: A-

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.

INSTALLATION
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 (192.1.0.100) 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.

DOCUMENTATION
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.

FEATURES
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 features.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
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 the problem.

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.

CONCLUSION
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.







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