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What is Softswitch?

As a wireless networker, you need to know about new protocols, standards and so forth. This tip, excerpted from, talks about a new one, Softswitch.

Simply put, Softswitch is the concept of separating the network hardware from network software. In traditional circuit switched networks, hardware and software are not independent. Circuit switched networks rely on dedicated facilities for inter-connection and are designed primarily for voice communications. The more efficient packet based networks use the Internet Protocol (IP) to efficiently route voice and data over diverse routes and shared facilities.

As much an initiative as it is a concept, the International Softswitch Consortium (ISC) is leading the charge to evolve traditional networks to more efficient and feature-rich softswitch networks. To date, the industry has met some success to the extent that the basic components of traditional networks have been de-coupled. The transport portion of telecommunications networks is increasing evolving to utilize the IP. In addition to data transport, this IP backbone is also increasingly the medium for Voice over IP (VoIP) services. An example of the de-coupling initiative is exemplified by special gateway and mediation equipment that is deployed to connect IP based networks to circuit based networks for VoIP.

However, Softswitch is more than simply separating the basic components. In this regard, Intelligent Networks (IN) have not yet been fully de-coupled. This current situation is disappointing to Softswitch proponents who claim that one of the primary benefits of separation of IN components would be to create an open environment for service creation. The notion is that IN would not follow traditional call control models, which are voice oriented and constraining. Instead, new control models would be session-based and support data, voice, and multimedia services equally well.

In an independent but related effort, work is underway within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) to define capabilities for hybrid IN + IP networks. One such hybrid is referred to by the IETF as PINT, which stands for PSTN (Public Switched Telecommunications Network) and Internet Interworking. The motivation for PINT is to allow Internet subscribers to add traditional IN related telephony functions. The idea is to have traditional network capabilities and services accessible and useable by Internet users.

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This was last published in January 2001

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