A softswitch is a device used in the telecommunications industry to connect two telephone lines during a call using software run on general purpose hardware. It replaces the telephone switchboard, and is most commonly used for connecting voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls with landlines or other VoIP connections.
Working as a gateway among different protocols and software, a softswitch allows both sides of a call to communicate effectively. It generally controls the connection services for a media gateway and native IP endpoints, chooses processes that are applied to a call, routes a call within the network based on signaling and customer database information, transfers control to other network elements, and supports management functions such as provisioning, fault and billing.
A hosted softswitch is a cloud-based service that allows a telecommunications company to use a third-party for the softswitch layer of their network, thereby saving the company from the need to invest, maintain and troubleshoot softswitch hardware.
Since the switching is software-based, softswitches provide additional flexibility over hardware-based switching technology, and they allow for programmability and support for current and future IP telephony protocols such as SIP and H.323.
In addition to specifically serving as a gateway for telephone calls, a softswitch also more generally can serve as a gateway for any type of media that is being transferred across a network, including video and chat systems.
Softswitches are typically located in a building owned by the telecommunications provider. This building will have telephone trunks that carry calls to other offices owned by the company, and to other companies by way of PSTN. With a hosted softswitch, however, the both sides of a call are routed through a third-party data center instead.
Hosted softswitch providers often differentiate their services by the software services tied to the softswitch. This includes reports and alerts, as well as billing and accounting features.
Reporting and alert features might include real-time billing and traffic graphs, profit/margin reporting, call detail records, and sales reports.
The ability to handle voice and chat, and the range of codec support also is a differentiation factor for hosted softswitch providers.