200 OK Choosing BroadSoft and MetaSwitch

I regularly spend time working with BroadSoft BroadWorks systems, and with MetaSwitch systems. I rarely have a client that has both, but I have many clients in both camps. Both are winning -- in separate camps. The BroadSoft service providers and the MetaSwitch service providers really don't seem like the same market set.

There have been a lot of competitors -- consider Sylantro, General Bandwidth M6, Lignup, Alcatel-Lucent's Feature Server 4000, and Asterisk, as examples. Some of these systems work, but some of them are pretty flaky. It takes a lot of work to catch up with the features and maturity of BroadSoft and MetaSwitch.

Since my readers are interested in this subject, I'll lay out some thoughts on the strengths of the two platforms.

BroadSoft's Strengths

BroadSoft makes some really strong, reliable software. Making and supporting mature software is an amazing feat. They should really be proud of their software platform, and the new features they've added.

It seems BroadSoft's customers (service providers) want to sell sophisticated features; they want to replace the office PBX. BroadSoft customers ask questions like, "do you have the features to replace a hotel PBX?" or "can we use BroadWorks to provide roaming features to users homed on another Class-5 switch?"

Many of BroadSoft's customers have in-house programming teams to handle the CDRs. Many of them work with outside SIP peering partners, like Level(3), Global Crossing, and Dash. Some of them have a sophisticated telephone gateway capable of SS7/ISUP and SIP, but some of them just use ISDN PRI gateways, like the AudioCodes or Cisco IOS gateways (AS5400, e.g.). BroadSoft doesn't really care how you connect to the PSTN.

BroadSoft Inc doesn't have a technical conference per se; they have an "Executive User's Forum", called Connections. You don't go to BroadSoft Connections to talk shop about telecom primarily -- you go there to learn about how to market your services and grow your business. You're generally supposed to get technical details directly from your salesman and your sales engineer separately. (They will answer technical questions and talk about some details -- but the purpose of Connections is all about networking -- in the human sense.)

BroadSoft operates a TAC (Technical Assistance Center); they prefer to interact primarily through their ticketing system, ExtraView. You may not get the same TAC engineer twice. If you have a general question, it's sometimes best to work through your sales team. If you have an outage, the TAC works very hard to pull in engineers who can help understand things quickly.

BroadSoft has the "Xchange" site where people can post questions. Most questions will receive a reply from a BroadSoft employee. In my experience, BroadSoft customers don't tend to interact a lot on the Internet. It might be because so many of them consider themselves to be nationwide players, selling service all over the US. And if there's a discussion group full of your competitors, you're not likely to talk about your questions and concerns.

BroadSoft has a really neat, simple to use voicemail platform built right in. I like it a lot; it's integrated well, and it can use your existing email account as a voicemail store.

BroadSoft's system runs on Linux or Solaris servers, so you need Unix system administration skills.

BroadSoft's documentation is split into many hundreds of small files; it's definitely improving over the past few years.

BroadSoft has some very smart business people at the top.

MetaSwitch's Strengths

MetaSwitch, too, makes some really strong software. And they build some really strong hardware, too. They have some really smart people developing and maintaining their software, and providing customer support as well. MetaSwitch has many sophisticated features; they don't sell every PBX-replacement feature that BroadSoft offers, but they sell many of the major features in the new SDP platform.

MetaSwitch's customers are often replacing Lucent 5ESS, Nortel DMS, or other SS7-capable telephone switches. MetaSwitch customers often ask questions like, "can the MetaSwitch support point code proxy?" and "can I split an ISUP trunk group across gateways at two different locations?" and "how many DS3s can I get in a gateway?" MetaSwitch tries very hard to provide PSTN switch and gateway features that telephone companies are accustomed to using.

Because MetaSwitch provides the network gateways, they do a lot with the audio (RTP). For example, MetaSwitch can directly perform echo cancellation for calls that traverse the gateway. (And, in fact, you could send SIP-to-SIP calls through their gateway.)

MetaSwitch has a User Forum; they talk a lot about their product, enhancements, and features. They talk about marketing your services a little bit. Many of the technical people from MetaSwitch are there.

MetaSwitch customers often rely heavily on their Customer Support Engineer, CSE. The CSE is directly assigned to a service provider, and he'll remember the problem you were discussing earlier. In my experience, you can have an informal conversation directly with the CSE. Beyond the CSE, MetaSwitch some extremely sharp CSE managers; the overall support team is incredibly bright and well educated.

MetaSwitch has a very lively customer forum email list, where people talk about their technical problems. It's probably in part because so many of MetaSwitch's customers are regional carriers who only serve one area of their state, and they don't feel threatened by other carriers.

MetaSwitch has a voicemail platform; as I understand it, it's in use by some major carriers who have hundreds-of-thousands of voicemail boxes. They scale it way down for smaller folks.

MetaSwitch runs on Solaris, but you really don't need to know that. They expose separate interfaces for your normal maintenance.

MetaSwitch's documentation is bundled into about 10 files, and is reasonably good. (Note: this is high praise. Most technical documentation is a waste of everyone's time to write and to read.)

MetaSwitch has some very smart Engineering people at the top of their business.

How do you choose?

Do you need an SS7-capable gateway?

Do you need voicemail for every subscriber?

Do you have Unix system administrators?

Do you expect to integrate the platform with your provisioning system?

Do you need to have multiple people modifying translations/routing at the same time?

Both of these are remarkably capable systems. They do have their strengths, and their target markets. Of course, BroadSoft and MetaSwitch would each like to have all of the customers, but since BroadSoft doesn't sell media gateways and SS7-capable equipment, and MetaSwitch doesn't try to provide every PBX feature known to man, they're really not direct competitors in my mind.