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Ellen Muraskin

Senior Editor Ellen Muraskin has been writing about telecom and IT since 1993. Most recently, she served as editor of Restaurant Technology Magazine, a technology supplement to Nation's Restaurant News.

Sprint to Sell Switch.co, Hosted PBX Integrated With Google Apps

- Blog

Ellen MuraskinSay you've helped small-business clients migrate to Google Apps, or work with companies who've used Google from the get-go. Now you can add a browser-based, richly-GUI'ed hosted PBX service, called Switch.co. This is to Google App shops what Lync/Skype for Business is to Microsoft Office 365 users, and perhaps a bit more.

Switch.co is the latest in a long line of telecom- and Google-related companies from Craig Walker, he of the popular Grand Central call management service acquired, retooled, and rebranded by Google into Google Voice. "No one's ever built a product specifically for the Google Apps user base," says Walker.

The news coming out of San Francisco-based Switch.co on Wednesday is that its UCaaS service is going to be resold through Sprint's direct and indirect salesforces, in addition to the startup's own direct and reseller channels.

I've seen Web-based, unified-communications dashboards from a bunch of PBX hosts over the years; combining voice, video, Google-contact screen pop (for a poor man's CRM) and Salesforce.com records (for the rest). Typically, you add employees and their extensions one by one. Switch.co's setup just grabs your company's Google contacts and automatically makes a callable registry and directory out of them. It's also automatically synced with whatever changes are made to that Google contact group. Setting up greetings, forwarding and rules-based routing is similarly the straightforward process we've come to expect.

Switch.co also updates the VoIP story in that unlike those other Web-based dashboards, it doesn't arrange the signaling for an IP phone somewhere else on your desk, or a VoIP client running on phone or PC. The browser is the voice and video end point; that's the beauty of WebRTC, the technology championed and released by Google for its Chrome browser in 2011. No plug-ins, unless you count the microphone, if you want. Set up your smartphone, desktop, iPad, or other tablet as endpoints as well. For Android and iOS. On Windows, Chromebook, Linux.

At $15 per month, per user (except for international calls, charged at typical VoIP rates), this hosted voice service is not sold through traditional telecom agents, or SMB VARs. That channel, says Walker, is mostly reselling some sort of Broadsoft UCaaS implementation.

"At $44 a month [per seat], there's money for the channel. Our pricing is a reflection of the actual cost, and not the way telephony has been priced." 

Sold Through Google Apps Resellers, Integrators

So Switch.co's reseller strategy, like many other services that can be self-provisioned via Web, is three-pronged. Since late 2014, it's been sold through "traditional" Google Apps resellers such as CloudSherpas and Onix Networking. Referrals get a one-time bounty. For large resellers who take on first-tier support, implementation and change management, Switch.co does an ongoing revenue share. And now there's Sprint, which sells the service as of Aug. 31 together with Google Apps for Work or as a stand-alone at $15 per month per seat if the customer already has a Google AFW account. Switch is also a key component of Sprint’s OfficeFuel portfolio – in Sprint's words, "providing everything businesses need to bring a mobile workplace to life, including mobile devices and data plans at a simple, predictable monthly price." 

One reason Walker can price the service so low is that "it's entirely served by us, unlike those who've essentially been running Broadsoft or Lync hotels." It's also built on the WebRTC voice engine, a Google giveaway that Walker describes in appreciative terms.

"The nice thing is, you're getting that voice engine basically that Google bought from Global IP Sound back in the day, and it's been continually improving it," he says. "We want to be riding that wave. As Google continues to pour more and more resources into this platform, we effectively just get all that stuff for free. Every six weeks they release another version of Chrome it gets a little bit better."

Open-Sourcing a Prized Voice Engine Through WebRTC

"Running a startup, we always wanted Global IP Sound's voice engine, but we couldn't afford it," Walker continues. "The fact that Google effectively open-sourced it and distributed it to the world through Chrome is pretty darn nice. You still have to know what you're doing with it; you want to optimize it and debug it. But the fact that it's made available to use is literally an awesome gift."

Switch has its own data centers and hardware for its voice and video traffic. "We want that to be as fast and high quality as possible and we don't believe this can be achieved yet through virtualization of any data center," says Walker. For routing all non-real-time media, they use Google App Engine. 

Switch.co also works with Firefox. Voice quality, on a conference call with Walker, was far superior to PSTN. (The three-way call was made using UberConferencing, sister company to Switch, which uses the same infrastructure.) Video was a bit choppy. Screen-sharing was excellent. Chat, of course, is there, as is presence and nested auto-attendant menus – also E911 setup, a necessity where hosted PBX unites geographically dispersed employees.

Last but not least, Switch.co surrounds the call with context: the last few tweets your called contact made, the last Gmails and Google Drive files you shared, your next calendar appointment together, some things from his/her Linked In profile. Salesforce.com integration is on the road map.

Those interested in reselling Switch or UberConference should inquire at reseller@switch.co.

Follow senior editor Ellen Muraskin @efm2 on Twitter.

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