Yet another SIP handset with a new logo on it isn’t the surprising bit and until I read the detail I assumed that this would be some sort of soft Digium OEM branding of hardware from an established player. It is the sort of thing that we have thought about a few times and would allow them to exploit the Asterisk or Switchvox brand to give them more handset revenue whilst keeping their open credentials intact by continuing to play nicely with the rest of the handset market. That isn’t what these are. They are Digium developed and manufactured and will apparently have proprietary features specific to closed source Digium applications. If that is true then it really is a bold departure.
As most folks will know Digium has a range of products which, up to now, have been mostly focussed around the open SIP VoIP comms market based on its early leadership in this field from developing the Open Source Asterisk code base a decade ago. Their original business model centered on monetising the ground breaking Asterisk code by selling telco interface cards to folks that used it, and latterly from a commercial PABX based on Asterisk called Switchvox which they purchased in 2007.
I guess that this isn’t a great place to be commercially any more. Digium have a number of strong competitors in the interface card space with no real differentiation other than the Asterisk brand association. The importance of these cards is in any case declining at their CPE end of the market which is moving at great speed away from local legacy telco interfaces towards SIP trunks. So they really need to make Switchvox work for them which is what I assume this is all about.
When we developed our Asterisk based PBX product in 2004, we could see the prospect of a huge market shift away from expensive and inflexible PBX systems which were at that time all using proprietary lock-in and exploiting the lack of standards between the PBX and the handset to keep the customer captive for all parts of the solution. Asterisk was a glimpse of the future, it’s adoption of cloud friendly open SIP standards broke this lock-in and enabled us to develop products which were flexible and worked with the many emerging SIP handset vendors like snom, Polycom & Sipura to deliver very competitive end to end solutions. Yes, there was an engineering problem to solve to make all these open handsets behave seamlessly but this was not that hard although it was resource consuming. Today we automatically discover and provision over 70 different handsets from half a dozen vendors but maintain compatibility with many more due to our use of exclusively open interfaces.
In the meantime purchasers have recognised the distortions caused by proprietary lock-in and even the old stalwart vendors now boast open SIP handset interoperability because it is now a “must have” on many procurement specifications.
From early information on these handsets, it looks like Digium may have launched a bid to rewind time and take Asterisk back into the 80s and 90s world of closed proprietary phone systems to make a few extra bucks on handsets in Switchvox sales. If they have then it will be interesting to see how that works for them.
This early information is very sketchy and more detail is promised soon on how the handsets will integrate. It could be that Digium intend to use their own handset designs to pioneer open functionality that gives smoother operation of features between handset and switch. If so then that will be great move for entire industry and we look forward to being able to add support for three more handsets that provide a further proof point to our customers that open solutions are the way to go! Who knows, Digium may be able to build a great business out of providing well thought out open handsets that create as much of a buzz as Asterisk first did a decade ago.