If you’re looking for a complete, business-ready Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service from one company that provides a variety of modern handsets tied to its own cloud-based Private Branch Exchange (PBX), then Digium Switchvox is well worth a look. The service starts at $24.99 per seat per month for up to 50 users, and has a wide variety of universal communications and collaboration (UCC) features. These features include video conferencing, presence management, instant chat, the ability to create call routing preferences, and the ability to flip easily between a desk phone and mobile device. However, while it’s a solid service for most small to midsize business (SMB) operations, it lags behind 8×8 Virtual Office Pro and RingCentral Office (for Business), our Editors’ Choice winners in our business VoIP and video conferencing review roundups. This is due to Digium Switchvox’s limited number of hardware options and its fairly basic video conferencing feature set.
However, even though it doesn’t win overall, Digium Switchvox still provides enough capability to suffice for many operations and it’s available at a fairly competitive price point. On the hardware side, its features are integrated into a choice of four different phones, which all have color displays. Likewise, the Digium Swichvox features travel well, with visually appealing and intuitive Android and Apple iOS applications. Digium also offers a useful administrator console that provides useful tools for call monitoring, real-time queuing, and a variety of other reports.
The notion of buying phones and service from the same company goes against the grain among some pure cloud PBX providers, such as 8×8 Virtual Office Pro, Intermedia Unite, RingCentral Office (for Business), and Vonage Business Cloud. Those cloud PBX providers, among others, promote that they don’t lock customers into their own hardware as did traditional PBX suppliers, who were notorious for locking their customers into their proprietary systems.
Instead of offering their own equipment, these providers offer various menus of systems from Cisco, Panasonic, Polycom, and Yealink, among others. But now that most new digital phones support the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a customer could run them on Digium’s cloud PBX service. Digium acknowledges this but maintains, not surprisingly, that customers will get the best calling experience and ease of use by using its phones. Likewise, since Digium’s phones are also SIP-based, customers could theoretically move them onto another SIP-compatible cloud PBX service, though your mileage may vary depending on how many liberties each vendor has taken with the standard.
If you have misgivings about using a cloud PBX service bundled with the provider’s phones, or you simply don’t like the models Digium offers, then this service might not be the best option for your company. But many business buyers, especially those with limited IT staffs, are quite content with the one-stop-shop approach of buying phone sets tied to one service. Digium Switchvox is also an alternative to our consumer VoIP Editors’ Choice winner Mitel MiCloud Office, which recently scooped up ShoreTel, both of which offer their own hardware and service. Mitel offers a dozen different SIP phones. It would be nice if Digium had a wider choice of phones as well, though the four it does offer—the D60, D62, D65, and D80—are all high-quality hardware with bright color displays. The D60 (Figure 1) is quite functional for an entry-level phone. It has a 4.3-inch color display, 2-line keys, dual 10/100 Mbps network ports, and is free with a three-year contract.
At the high-end, the D80 (Figure 2) is driven by a 7-inch, touch-screen display, and embedded menu options that can render visualizations of voicemail, presence, contacts, and call handling capabilities. It also can run third-party apps such as Google Maps. It has no traditional buttons or dialpad keys. Users may want to keep screen-cleaning spray and a cloth in their desk if they don’t like seeing their fingerprints on the display.
For conference rooms, Digium said the D80 is suitable for small to midsize meeting rooms. If you have a large executive conference room, then Digium Switchvox supports Polycom’s popular SoundStation IP 6000. Otherwise, the four phones Digium offers should suit most business environments, and the low-end phone offers a nice display and feature set for the price. Pricing for the service is higher than most of the options in our review roundup. The price ranges from $24.99 to $35 per month per seat, depending on the number of seats and whether the customer opts for a three-year, annual, or month-to-month agreement.
Digium isn’t purely a cloud PBX provider. The company only started offering the Switchvox cloud PBX service a few years ago. It has, historically, offered and still actively provides on-premises PBXes, SIP trunking services, VoIP gateways, line cards, and phones. Asterisk, Digium’s parent company, is the sponsor of its namesake open-source UCC framework for developers and the platform that supports both the Switchvox on-premises and cloud PBX services. While its phones work on both the Switchvox cloud PBX service and its on-premises systems, the two infrastructures don’t tie together. Organizations can have combined billing but the two can’t be used in a true hybrid environment, which is more a function of its different infrastructures than of the software and the phones.
That’s further complicated by the company’s reticence to share too much about its cloud PBX infrastructure. When asked how many data centers it runs or whether it runs in a public cloud environment or dedicated hosting facilities, the company replied that it doesn’t disclose this information, including whether or not it’s geo-redundant, which is a fairly basic requirement for IT people interested in making sure their phone service stay reliable. A company official would only share that it’s highly survivable, available, and resilient, with 99.999 of availability. This might be enough information for some customers, but for those who need more detail, it could be a deal breaker.
The Switchvox service is available through Digium’s direct sales organization, its network of partners, and online resellers CDW and VoIPSupply. The network requirements are straightforward. The phones plug into any broadband connection that has reliable bandwidth and a standard RJ-45 port in an Ethernet switch. Digium has an online tool to test each location, which takes a minute or two. Unless it shows an upload speed of less than 3 Mbps, latency of more than 250ms, and jitter of more than 50ms, you’re set to go.
Whether you work with a partner or directly with the company, you’ll have a relationship with someone representing Digium, which will make setup easier. This person will gather configuration information such as how many extensions are needed, what types of permissions different employees should receive, and what other features people in the organization might need. Once you’ve established how many lines and phones you’ll need, you’ll configure your extensions and call routing policies through the admin console.
To help, the company or the partner with whom you’re working will provide this configuration service as well. Call controls and preferences for users and the admin console are all web-based via dedicated URLs with a username.digiumcloud.net naming convention. The Digium phones are designed to auto-provision the network settings and features of the Switchvox service.
Authorized managers can log in to the admin console by adding /admin to the end of the URL. The admin console is divided into four sections: Reports, Server, Setup, and Tools. In the Setup section, an admin can configure converged phones, Digium phones, feature packs, groups, permissions, settings, and users. Setting up user extensions is typically among the first steps where you can create extensions, modify them, or import them from other systems. Admins can manage phones, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) menus, call queues, and virtual extensions.
In the Tools section, admins can access an IVR menu editor, create time settings, manage call recording, and set up event triggers. The latter will launch a specific URL based on the caller ID of incoming calls. Other tools include management of company contacts, rapid dial list, and a tool to develop apps for the Digium phones.
Digium also has a widget tool to create custom layouts in a feature called Switchboard, which is suited for those who need to manage call queues or users who handle numerous incoming calls and want to create customized views. The admin console also offers quite a few other tools for businesses that want to embed specific apps into the phone. The platform already has a connector for Microsoft Outlook and Salesforce apps. The Switchvox for Outlook user interface (UI) lets users dial a contact’s number directly from Outlook. When enabled, users can dial a call directly from the Outlook contact with an embedded dial button. While that’s convenient for the many workers who use Outlook to manage their contacts, even more useful is the context it provides with incoming calls. Presuming the incoming caller ID matches the contact information in Outlook, the app will present a desktop notification with the contact information from Outlook.
Reports and Call Features
The admin console has reporting tools that offer a simple way to create reports based on phones, call queues, IVRs, providers, and direct inward dial (DID) numbers. These reporting screens provide information such as the number of incoming and outgoing calls, talk-time durations, call times, and other metrics. Admins can create straight reports or build charts directly in Digium’s UI and output them either to Microsoft Excel or as XML files for easier integration into custom or third-party dashboards.
The Switchvox user portal is straightforward. Employees can manage their voicemail and view their own call logs and reports as well as set up calling features such as Call Rules, Contacts, and status options you wish to use in your presence indicator. When creating your Call Rules, you could, for example, create a rule that will decline all queue calls while directing all direct calls to voicemail if you’re in do-not-disturb mode. A secondary rule could direct calls to voicemail or your mobile phone after a specified number of rings. The Call Rules tool also lets you create call-blocking preferences and message prompts.
Those who like the flexibility of having calls routed to alternate locations either internally at another extension or externally such as their homes or mobile phones can use the Converged Phones feature. It’s easy to configure by inputting the basic information in the Setup wizard. It includes a flip-to feature that lets you switch a call from a desk phone to a mobile phone (or vice versa) without alerting anyone else online.
Many cloud PBX offerings now provide mobile client features. User settings let you determine whether call handling goes through the PBX or your own cellular service. It has one of the more aesthetically pleasing keypads, which is easy to read in less than optimal conditions and provides access to contacts, a call log, and favorites. It’s also easy to access voice messages and pull up and manage contracts.
Conferencing and Collaboration
We’d like to see Digium pay more attention to its softphone functionality. It would be nice to have that same mobile app act as a desktop softphone, especially if you don’t like to dial from the desk phone. A softphone would also be nice if you want to use your Mac or PC as a phone. The latter issue can be addressed by pulling up the Switchboard tool mentioned earlier. In addition to providing managers with customized dashboards, users can create their own widgets as well. It also has an embedded dialer, which lets you dial from the desktop, though, if you use Outlook, then you can dial from a contact there as well. It also includes a guest chat web app that lets a presenter send a link to participants, and they can chat and have a simple video conference with screen sharing.
Setting up basic conference calls from the phone sets or mobile clients is also straightforward. Just choose the Conference icon and you can dial in multiple parties. Likewise, a Conference Room feature lets any user set up a meeting. Under the Call Features drop-down menu, you can choose the Conference Room option where you create a five-digit conference ID for people to access a conference.
Overall, Digium Switchvox offers a solid set of features that are suited to business users with a variety of requirements. The package is quite suitable if you like their phones, which are all sturdy devices. The service and features performed well during our tests, but it would be nice to have a better picture of their network backbone. While the company has been around for nearly two decades, it’s not as well-known as some of its competitors, but it does offer a solid set of features and a reasonable value if you intend to use them.