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It took 7 years for the softswitch market to mature
The first were unveiled in 1999 amid the packet-switching buzz as a number of carriers announced they would not buy any more circuit switches. The vendors that struck the first softswitch trial agreements with carriers were circuit-switching masters Lucent Technologies (with Global Crossing and Level 3) and Nortel Networks (with BT's operation in Spain).
Softswitches arrived on the telecoms scene at the time to transform the PSTN forever. The pitch was straightforward and easy to understand: the Internet was on fire, and data traffic volumes were growing so fast that it was on the verge of outpacing voice traffic--indeed, in some markets it already accounted for at least half of the total network traffic.
The switches of the old-school phone network that had been piggybacking data packets on its of fixed voice circuits simply could not be expected to handle those kinds of volumes. Maintaining separate networks for voice and data was a ridiculously expensive and unwieldy proposition--not to mention futile since was already destined for end-to-end ubiquity.
The most sensible solution, then, was to transform the operation from a rigid circuit-switched network to a flexible packet-switched network that could support all kinds of services, with voice being just another app. It wasn't all about keeping up with data traffic volumes--packet-switched architectures also offered considerable cost savings, as softswitches not only come with a lower price tag than a standard Class 5 circuit switch, they're also less costly to operate and maintain. They're also far more flexible, enabling carriers to provision new services to customers more quickly, particularly in the context of the eventual move to multi-service networks that are geared to support similar service flexibility and cost savings, from broadband access and next-generation edge routers to next-generation Sonet/SDH and optical switching cores.
What makes softswitches so attractive now compared to 1999? A number of things, the most obvious perhaps being that voice-over-packet technology has reached the volume that makes it easy to deploy. Softswitches are now available for small and medium telecom players. One example is the Topex multiSwitch provided in the UK and Ireland by C21 Communications. It is a carrier-grade softswitch solution that provides call-control, multiple services and multiple types of signalling. It features Class 4 and Class 5 telecom services over IP-based networks or hybrid TDM and IP infrastructures.
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