Life of a call part 4: The future is now

This is the fourth post in our Life of a Call series by Switch co-founder and VP of Telephony and Mobile, John Rector. Previously, John worked at Google as a Senior Software Engineer, building the telephony backend for Google Voice.

Part 1: The Historical Telephone
Part 2: PSTN and Modern Telephony

Part 3: Internet and the Separation of Data and Voice

Today we look at where Switch fits in the telecom world.


Traditionally, communication at work is based on the paradigm of every person working out of a single, fixed cubicle. If you wanted to talk to someone in a different department on a different floor of the building, you picked up the desk phone and entered their extension to call.

A list of people and their associated extensions was right next to your phone. This list would have to be updated regularly if people joined or left the company. If you wanted to call a phone number outside the company you would have press "9" or another button to exit and then the external phone number. Similarly, a person from outside would call the company main line first and then the person's extension. Sometimes a receptionist might answer the call and transfer it to the correct person.

This is called a Private Branch Exchange, or PBX. The phrase 'branch exchange' is borrowed from descriptions of early telephone networks. It simply refers to the small group of interconnected telephones. 'Private' refers to the closed nature of this group to the rest of the telecom network.

Typically, a PBX was installed and maintained by the local telecom company. Sometimes it was included as part of the lease for the office building.

Challenges to the PBX

The PBX paradigm is established and well-known to anyone who has ever worked in an office. However, with the introduction of the internet there have been several challenges to the dominance of the PBX. These problems are especially important to IT managers, whose job it is to make sure all employees have the tools to function and be productive.

The first challenge is the flexible employee. More and more employees are working from home, traveling for their job, and working non-standard hours. This is chipping away at the paradigm of one person in one cubicle from 9-5.

In addition, employees are using many different electronic devices — their smartphone, laptop, tablet, or personal computer. This can be by need if one device breaks down. It can also be by desire, as some employees want to bring their personal devices to work. Although they may want to use the same physical device, it is still necessary and desirable to keep work and personal data separate.

Finally, the unity of voice and data through VoIP poses a challenge. Costs can be saved by using only one infrastructure instead of two. Yet VoIP may or may not have the same reliability as normal PSTN, and rolling out such a change across an entire organization is difficult.

Enter Switch

Switch Communications as a company aims to make communication at work easy, reliable, and seamless. Our two main products, Switch and UberConference, are geared towards the enterprise market and solving many of the pain points that your company's "power communicators" often face.

Switch replaces your entire company's PBX with a complete, cloud-based, software phone solution. Employees can send and receive calls over their browser, smartphone, or any device they choose. We're well integrated with Google Apps, adding voice functionality to your SaaS productivity tools. Administrator tasks are also vastly simpler than traditional PBXs.

UberConference solves the special case of the conference call. Your conference organizer starts a conference on their smartphone, web browser, and has advanced features such as mute and screen-sharing. Conference participants (likely your customers and clients) can join via the browser too, or even with just a simple phone call. All of this happens without long, burdensome PIN numbers.

Switch Communication's goal is to take advantage of all the cool and powerful features of browsers and smartphones, yet also retain the ease and reliability of a classic telephone conversation. After all, voice is the first social network, and it's not going away anytime soon.

That's the end of Part 4. In the final part of our Life of a Call series, we look at Switch's telephony infrastructure. 

Dialpad is the phone system designed for the way you work