Virtual central office technology is a business-to-business tool that is quickly moving into the home.
"For every sale I make to a business customer, I get three to four residential customers," says Joel Eisenberg, chief executive of Seattle-based competitive carrier ITL Metro. "Its a viral type of market. You dont sign up one customer — you sign up branches, employees, vendors, their customers."
Much of this is due to the ability of softswitches to transfer data over Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) or cable modem from office to home. It makes computer networking obsolete. Users can access their home PC from the office PC, and vice versa. Other services, such as call forwarding and long-distance call blocking, can be applied to both office and home phones through one provider.
"Its a 2002 timeframe" for softswitch technology to travel over cable or DSL into the home, says Susan Davis, director of product management at Lucent Technologies.
Maciej Kranz, manager of marketing at Cisco Systems desktop switching unit, believes that because they create a converged network, softswitches will finally bring long-promised services such as video-on-demand and interactive television to the home.
Dan Dearing, vice president of marketing at NexTone Communications, envisions that within the next year, big Internet service providers such as America Online will latch onto his companys iVANi virtual central office software. The software is geared toward allowing service providers to offer bundled services to businesses, but many of these services, such as unified messaging, are also attractive to the individual consumer.
"It can be integrated with e-mail. [The user] can talk in real-time through an embedded Web URL that will tell the network their phone number and the senders phone number," Dearing says.