Why would anyone, in their righteous mind, ever need PortaSwitch alternatives? Could it be curiosity, like that Mars rover?
To answer this question, let’s first be honest: from time to time, people do google themselves. Why? Usually, for one of two reasons: (1) “Does that nice-looking conference photo where I’m wearing my favorite shirt still show up first in a Google image search of my name?” (2) “Is the first snippet shown under my name still that article on ArXiv.org with my university graduation thesis? Or is it that stinky piece in a local newspaper listing vehicle owners who ignored the notices and parked in a way that obstructed the path of a weekend charity marathon?”
Well, companies do the same. And gosh, they do it a lot. People have built a multibillion-dollar PR and reputation industry around this one fundamental behavior.
How Is a PortaSwitch Alternatives Workshop Similar to the Life of Mr. Peanutbutter?
If you like black humor and haven’t watched BoJack Horseman, you should. (Just be careful not to binge on it when you are feeling depressed – if anybody ever compiles a list of the most depressingly hilarious TV shows, BoJack should lead it.) The show’s main antagonist (and BoJack’s BFF) is Mr. Peanutbutter. At some point, when accepting the sad reality of a divorce, Mr. Peanutbutter asks the same question we asked in our first question: “Why would anyone need someone who is not me?”
As it turns out, some organizations might actually need someone who is not us. Circumstances, destinies, and universes differ. So, asking yourself this existential question from time to time (be it related to business or to life) is a powerful way to create positive change.
In this story, we are doing just that – asking ourselves why any telco business might need something other than PortaSwitch. Astonishingly, instead of getting an upsetting answer, we came to learn why our market niche is solid, and why PortaSwitch is here to stay for another decade. Like with any decent strategy, there are nuances. And those little bastards differentiate businesses that do from those that don’t.
Despite what we learned, we’re not resting here. We can constantly expand on our niche. And any righteous business should always aspire to that kind of expansion.
The PortaSwitch Niche and Why We Are Strong in It
We are a solution platform, not a
problem 😂 platform. To explain why, let’s use the analogy of the California Gold Rush, just like MBA professors do when they discuss SaaS. There is a “cloud PBX as a service” industry (that’s the gold miners in this analogy; in real life, it’s one of the branches of UCaaS) and a bunch of “cloud PBX solutions” waiting to be used by the industry (that’s Levi Strauss and – not really – his jeans).
PortaSwitch is the latter. We are the Levi Straus of the cloud PBX goldmine. When passengers google “transportation as a service” (before SaaS, we just called it “a taxi”), they are looking for services like Uber or Lyft. However, not everyone who might be searching that term is a passenger. Some people are drivers, and they need (1) to buy an excellent, durable car for working in the taxi business, and (2) a service to help them get the customer flow with a decent revshare and timely payouts.
PortaOne does not offer UCaaS directly. Instead, we offer a platform to run UCaaS called CPaaS – in particular, hosted/cloud PBX services. To continue that Uber/Lyft analogy: we are the vendor of durable cars. That’s why people who do UCaaS and CPaaS love PortaOne. Comparing us to the UCaaS providers is like comparing services that help Uber/Lyft drivers start their business to Uber/Lyft themselves or to the Uber/Lyft drivers.
Okay, now that the distinction of our niche is clear, that leads to two more questions: Are we alone in our niche? And why are we confident in our market position?
The PortaSwitch Alternatives v. Our Competitive Edge
One of the key competitive edges of PortaSwitch is that, on a scale of “build your own” to “get a turn-key black box,” we are “just right” for the telco world Goldilocks.
Best of Both Worlds
PortaOne provides two key benefits that place our products on both sides of that Goldilocks scale:
- PortaSwitch is a ready-to-use cloud PBX solution. Unlike PortaSwitch alternatives like Twilio, Nexmo, and others, and open-source options like Freeswitch, which offer “a perfect Lego set” that you have to assemble before launching your product, PortaOne offers out-of-the-box solutions. That means getting your service up and running is much shorter and faster since you start with a solid base of 1001 features, plus consulting services (should you need one) to establish and run it instantly.
- On the other hand, compared to “off-the-shelf” PBX solutions (BroadSoft, Metaswitch, etc.), PortaSwitch allows you a considerably higher degree of customization. Sure, BroadSoft gives you many options and features to play with. But when you need to go beyond those options – meaning, you need that one Lego brick that didn’t come pre-furbished – you will soon discover a “nine months to a year” wait time. With PortaOne, you will only have to wait a few (or even just one) of our development cycles, which are just seven weeks.
PortaSwitch Comes Monetization-Ready (Thank You, PortaBilling)
And there’s one more key benefit! PortaSwitch evolved from PortaBilling (in fact, it grew out of it). Having a great platform to launch great products is good. It’s even better to have a platform that makes earning actual money with those products more manageable. Once again, PortaBilling comes ready to use, and, should you need extra features – it’s as little as seven weeks, not years.
PortaSwitch Alternatives, Tier 1: Dedicated Commercial Cloud Telephony and Billing Systems (a.k.a. “the Real Alternative”)
Dedicated commercial systems are the essential product category if you need a sound analysis of all the PortaSwitch alternatives. Yes, BroadWorks and Kazoo are our competitors, and they created exciting and robust products that can, in some cases, be an alternative to PortaSwitch.
If Twilio is the “king of CPaaS,” BroadWorks by BroadSoft (led by the legendary Mike Tessler) was the segment king of the dedicated cloud PBX systems market. Then, in 2017, Cisco acquired BroadSoft. The reasons for the $1.9-billion acquisition are understandable. Still, the outcomes were somewhat controversial. They shed light on why many market players prefer PortaSwitch + PortaPhone to UC-One (once a popular communication client for BroadWorks) – even if we have around 500+ customers compared to the thousands of UC One customers at Cisco.
BroadSoft’s business skyrocketed thanks to its channel partners – companies that sold and maintained BroadWorks for telcos and the UCaaS/CPaaS solution integrators. After the Cisco acquisition, BroadWorks (like the Greek titan Cronus) started “eating its kin.” Cisco currently owns the entire UCaaS/CPaaS vertical. Now, they are masterfully masking it under a “5G-as-a-service” disguise. But if the financial crisis eventually forces the shareholders to make a revenue decision, we will soon see “Cisco Telecom.”
So Many Features, You Will Get Lost
BroadWorks is the product of that “scary telecom acronyms”-loving generation of engineers from the 1990s and 2000s. (These were the people to whom a sentence like “please set Q4 OKRs for OSS/BSS CAPEX. The next RevComm is coming” sounds like a Japanese haiku.) This means BroadWorks has harvested all the superpowers and all the super weaknesses of that generation.
And one example of those powers/weaknesses matters here. BroadWorks is indeed the Swissiest of all the Swiss telecom knives out there. It comes with tons of valuable features and frameworks. And (just like PortaSwitch) it has a friendly, vibrant community ready to help you utilize those features. However, understanding those features is as complicated as the Cisco BroadWorks licensing fees. 😂
This level of complexity has led to the appearance of “intermediary UI solutions” – for example, Odin by Rev.io. If you don’t immediately understand why this is hilarious, imagine this: Say you buy a modern smartphone, and then, to get it set up, you take it to a repairman down the street who specializes in clocks built in the XIX century. (That, by the way, is an actual real-life example provided by the mother of this story’s author.) Why would a multimillion-dollar product have a UI that needs to be “explained and simplified”? It’s called “user interface” for a reason.
Founded in 2010 by Americans Darren Schreiber and Patrick Sullivan, 2600Hz, Inc. alludes to the legendary “blue box” developed by phreakers back in the 1960s to cheat on mainstream US telcos, primarily AT&T. The blue box went mainstream thanks to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak – it was their first product before Apple I. The brand message of 2600Hz is clear. The founders created 2600Hz because they “saw a discrepancy in the telecom industry: large-scale carrier-grade solutions that could handle heavy volumes didn’t offer flexibility, and open-source single-server solutions weren’t designed for scale.”
2600Hz created Kazoo with BroadWorks in mind. That means the younger platform has an architecture built initially to exploit its competitor’s shortcomings and seize the business opportunities that BroadWorks had not addressed fast enough. Besides having five-star reviews, Kazoo has a great API and documentation portal (and a very professional content marketing team). 😉
Billing Integration Is Still Where PortaSwitch Shines
The Kazoo team understands how vital billing, charging, and invoicing are. However, that’s when you have to invest your 10,000 hours (while being emotionally invested along the way) to get the billing right. Do you remember us saying that the elder brother of PortaSwitch is PortaBilling? It was the product with which we started our business in the 2000s. Since then, PortaBilling has undergone over a hundred main builds. (Read our documentation portal for more on that.)
Disclaimer: we are basing this statement on the reports we have heard from our customers who have experimented with Kazoo. This is different from our direct first-hand experience. Use your judgment.
The Open-Source Community v. Professional Support
Another nuance is product support and the open-source model, which 2600Hz preferred to use for Kazoo. You can get support for free from your peers (that’s other Kazoo users), or order professional services (for example, cloud call center) from 2600Hz. All the Kazoo documentation is “curated” by 2600Hz. Practically, this means 2600Hz guarantees you will get what you want. If that is, the feature you are looking for is officially supported by 2600Hz.
PortaSwitch Alternatives, Tier 2: “Free VoIP” Cloud Telephony and Billing Systems
Another category of PortaSwitch alternatives is dedicated open-source systems. They have an ironclad competitive advantage over anything else: the source code is available and free. (And so is the product license.) But regardless of whether you perceive it from the philosophical prism of “free as in speech” or via more mercantile “free as in beer,” the “freedom” that open source systems gives you is both a blessing and a curse.
For the purposes of this story, we’re going to limit ourselves to the “curses.” If you want to know about the “blessings,” you can visit the websites of some of the top (according to us) “free VoIP” vendors that we list out below. After all, we’re not here to offer a free promo post for open-source hosted PBX solutions. 😂
Personnel Availability and Launching Speed
Open-source softswitch vendors will always claim that a vibrant professional community is waiting to help you. This statement is true. After all, professional consulting services (and certification or promotion of those services) are the usual business model for open-source projects. However, highly qualified open-source developers and experts will usually cost you more than commercial ones. If you go to tier 2 and lower, you run the risk of getting a highly ideological developer with meager actual deliverables.
Licensing and an Obligation to Give Back Your Code
Another problem: if you get highly marginal commercial-grade software for free (as in speech), you should be ready to license your improvements for free (as in beer). If you are Google, and you make billions with search, you can allow yourself some long-term ecosystem leveraging and playing open source. However, if you are a small to medium business, depending mainly on small features to differentiate from the competition, then licensing those features back might be a pain.
That said: PortaOne is a massive fan of open source. Besides the “source code for telecom billing,” we follow the same approach for smaller projects and encourage others to do so – for instance: WebTrit released their WebTrit softphone under an open-source license. So here is our only point on this subject: when doing open source projects, you should be diligent in understanding your long-term business strategy. Mere ideology won’t feed your family, or the families of your employees. Some projects can be ethically closed source and still make the world a better place.
Created by American programmer and entrepreneur Mark Spencer in 1999, Asterisk is the most used open-source PBX software worldwide. Asterisk supports various existing telecom protocols: SIP, SS7, and webRTC.
On top of that, in 2009, Spencer introduced the Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX) protocol. IAX provides trunking of calls between Asterisk PBX systems. The industry use cases of Asterisk vary from traditional PBX to cloud call centers and various UCaaS solutions. Canada-based Sangoma Technologies Corporation was building dedicated IP phones for Asterisk and eventually acquired Digium (the company that owns the IP for Asterisk) in 2018.
If Asterisk is Intel, then FreeSwitch is AMD. Developed around 2006–2007, FreeSwitch is a deliberate runner-up to its elder brother. After a decade of operations, the core community of FreeSwitch created SignalWire, Inc. – a legal entity to monetize FreeSwitch and represent the commercial interests of the FreeSwitch community. Like Asterisk, FreeSwitch is a “powerful Lego,” not a ready-to-use product. SignalWire is booming with new initiatives and technologies, like video rooms, call transcription, and translation.
In 2001, a group of enthusiasts (and former students of Henning Schulzrinne, the co-inventor of SIP) launched the SIP Express Router (SER). A year later, the founders released SER under GPL. Then, in 2005, a fork of SER called OpenSER appeared. Eventually, it became Kamailio after a trademark dispute arose in 2008 over the “OpenSER” brand name. Soon, the SER and OpenSER teams merged their projects under a single brand. Kamailio stands out because of its (still) decentralized management, which is run predominantly via old good open source get-togethers. This management style is in contrast to the single leader-driven Asterisk (via Mr. Spencer) and business-driven FreeSwitch (via SignalWire).
PortaSwitch Alternatives, Tier 3: Hosted Platforms
The principal difference between hosted platforms and our previous two PortaSwitch alternatives is control over your business infrastructure (or, rather, the lack of that control). NetSapiens, Alianza, and RingCentral offer great “prefubrished” solutions on which you can try to build your own. However, unlike the “dedicated” and “free” hosted PBX systems (see the last two competitor categories), hosted platforms are managed for you by someone else. Hence the name.
It’s important to understand that PortaSwitch can also be a hosted platform. In our case, though, that’s an option. (To put it another way, it’s one of the many setup types for your business infrastructure.) In the case of NetSapiens, Alianza, and RingCentral, that’s a modality.
And, as you will see below, PortaSwitch can act as a business enabler for a hosted platform business model. Meaning, you can sell your PortaSwitch system under your label. That’s what two of our customers, Telinta and Boom Limited, are currently doing – and doing it successfully.
We’ve covered Twilio intensely in various posts on this blog. (Spoiler: yes, we like them a lot.) In the most recent example, we forecasted that “it seems likely that Twilio will be acquired by a larger player soon.” This did not happen in the summer of 2022, and summer is the usual “acquisition season” of the year. (It gives the accountants and the finance team plenty of time to prepare the books and reporting before year-end.) However, interestingly, Twilio’s acquisition team also went silent throughout 2022. That’s a sign of something. And there’s the fact that Twilio’s stock soared recently, apparently without any good reason. Nevertheless, it’s still good news for the entire industry.
In early November 2022, perhaps as you read this, Twilio hosts Signal 2022 (the name of their combined customer and developer conference, not to be confused with the secure messaging service that’s particularly popular on the Ukrainian frontlines) and reports its Q3 results. And when you invite George Clooney to your CustomerCon – you likely have something important to say. Let’s stay tuned.
Founded by a serial telecom entrepreneur from Utah named Brian Beutler, Alianza brings a true small-town spirit of the West into cloud PBX. The company is headquartered in Pleasant Grove (previously Battle Creek) – the location of the notorious Battle Creek Massacre. Recently (in the 20th century), Pleasant Grove became the venue of Strawberry Days – a summer festival for strawberry farmers.
Throughout the 2010s, Alianza completed several significant acquisitions, emerging as one of the industry’s key players in hosted platforms. Alianza is recommended for a very decent level of customer service if you have enough budget and don’t have any specific features or technology requirements.
Like Twilio, this player needs no intro. Bootstrapped since 1999 by its Soviet-born founders (Vlad Shmunis from Odessa and Vlad Vendrow from St. Petersburg), RingCentral ventured for the capital in 2006. The business prospered, as became evident from the Oakland Coliseum naming deal of 2019. RingCentral Coliseum now hosts Major League Baseball games.
RingCentral has quite an impressive portfolio of products: RingCentral Office, RingCentral Professional, RingCentral Fax, Glip, and others. In 2021, RingCentral consolidated its offering under a single MVP brand. The “Essentials” plan for MVP will cost you $19.99, v. $7.25 with Slack’s “Pro” plan. However, with MVP, you will get full-scale cloud PBX… v., well, if you’ve ever tried voice calling via Slack, you know the pains.
“RingCentral is a great product for illustrating why PortaSwitch does not compete with the hosted platforms,” explains Andriy Zhylenko, CEO of PortaOne. RingCentral is essentially a large telco that develops its technology and then sells it to business customers (who can then use it for office PBX, cloud call centers, and so on). In contrast, PortaSwitch builds the technology for smaller telcos. If we need to compare our role in RingCentral’s ecosystem, it would be like this: we enable the technology for RingCentral’s smaller competitors (or niche players… read on for more on that).
Based in the picturesque, ocean-facing La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego in California, NetSapiens is a mature cloud PBX provider (since 2002). NetSapiens runs its business primarily via the Partner Alliance Program.
Hosted Platforms That Are PortaSwitch Customers
Essentially, these are our core customers. We enable their technology, and we refer customers to them when someone (who has been misled by a poorly done “PortaSwitch alternatives analysis”) requests a hosted platform from us.
Founded in 2002, Telinta is one of our oldest customers. Our businesses grew together. Currently, Telinta is headquartered in Springfield, New Jersey. We have a “fly cycle” with them. If a prospect is small, we send it to Telinta, our allied business partner. Likewise, when Telinta sees that a customer has “graduated” to a larger scale, they recommend that they buy a PortaSwitch license directly from us.
While Telinta is more of a “generalist” (pretty much like RingCentral or Alianza), our UK-based customer Boom Limited specializes in various multi-layered, technology-intense solutions. Boom uses PortaSwitch as a basis to build its core features upon it.
PortaSwitch Alternatives, Tier 4: Teams That Captera or G2 Think Are Our Competitors (Spoiler: They Are Not, and Here’s Why)
There are automated “competitor analysis services” out there. In the case of PortaSwitch alternatives, Google automatically generates comparison lists by Capterra, SourceForge, and G2. Like many automatically generated things, these lists could be better.
Google currently uses the list from G2 as its source for its “top 10 alternatives to PortaSwitch” widget. That list mentions Dialpad Talk, Zoom, Cisco Jabber, Nextiva, CallRail Call Tracking, GoTo Connect, Zoho Meeting, and others. This is incorrect. These great products are either hosted platforms (Nextiva, GoTo Connect, Dialpad Talk) or standalone apps (Zoom, Jabber, Zoho Meeting). They facilitate different business models. Comparing them is like comparing Ford to Uber, Michelin, Avis, or Shell. All five brands are related to cars. However, they cover different elements of the automotive ecosystem.
Capterra mentions Line2 Pro, Dialpad, GoTo Connect, Nextiva, 3CX, and others. Once again, these are hosted platforms, while PortaSwitch is a dedicated cloud telephony and billing system.
SourceForge Gets At Least Some Direct Hits
Of the three “PortaSwitch alternatives recommendation services,” SourceForge is the only one with at least some relevant results. It features some niche cloud telephony and billing systems, such as astTECS, ClarVantage, and ATEL, as well as a dozen attractive standalone billing solutions.
Trolls (Not Really PortaSwitch Alternatives)
Some five years ago or so, we stumbled upon a blog post published by a business naming itself “Bicom Systems.” We then discovered another wild story mentioning “vampire quotes” 🧛and alleging that PortaOne “broke a company over PBX.” At that time, we had no blog, so it was amusing to be famous to the extent that competitors dedicated a series of blog posts (with vampire quotes!) to us, explaining with a lot of science and tables (with data that seemed to be randomly generated) why their PortaOne alternative is better. 😂What can we say (other than):
Unlike Bicom and its judgment of PortaSwitch, we won’t judge their product, as we haven’t been privileged to experience it. We did, however, have a look at their documentation portal, and saw that it just opens a procedure for creating support tickets for customer service. That might help existing customers, but it does not shed light on the details of their product offering.
Why Doesn’t PortaOne Do Some Tables of Comparison?
Says Andriy Zhylenko: “To say it briefly: we don’t do them because comparison tables are BS – at least in telecom.” And no, BS does not stand for “base station.” Our industry sells a b2b tool (BSS/OSS) to telcos. The transaction alone sometimes takes years to complete. Then the customer might stay on the same MR for years because “it just works fine.” And you have to use both products (ours and the competing one) simultaneously for several years to start comparing them relevantly.
In our opinion, comparing the “flags” in the most recent release of PortaSwitch to, say, Kazoo makes no point. We are not selling sports cars or smartphones. We can add most, if not all, features within one or two seven-week cycles. (Yes, agility is PortaOne’s competitive leverage, and we are using it aggressively.) Almost any feature in an industry as complex and multi-layered as modern cloud telephony now has a dozen frameworks, libraries, or SDKs (thank you, Google, Microsoft, and our open-source brethren) competing for the actual use cases to then sell consulting and training.
However, we compete not via features, libraries, or some hype-driven frameworks. We compete via the vision of the ecosystem. It’s like picking up a martial arts coach. After a certain level of proficiency, the accolades stop making sense. Is there an Olympic champion in Wing Chun or karate? What matters is whether this master teacher can highlight your path in a manner that works for you.
“The Big Table Challenge” for PortaSwitch Alternatives Accepted
Nevertheless, we accept the challenge. (The challenge of doing a perfect features comparison table based on actual product experience, that is.) Our product team is currently interviewing the “switchers” (the clients who previously used BroadWorks, Kazoo, Twilio, and so on and who are now using PortaSwitch). If all goes well, expect a new blog story (and a big beautiful table) in 2023.
How Are We Planning to Differentiate from PortaSwitch Alternatives in the Future? A PortaOne Roadmap Through the Lens of the Competitive Edge
“In a decade, it will all return to the origins, and our billing line of business will take over the hosted/cloud PBX features,” reasons Andriy Zhylenko, answering a question about our future roadmap. “We can bill anything with an SKU and digital metrics, for example, time, data amount, and units.” The global economy is speeding its pace of staging experiences while physical goods become increasingly commodified.
Telecom will eventually merge peacefully into the overall tech industry, leaving only the “wires and antennas” behind. And this “dumb pipe” is not so “dumb” after all. (If you have doubts, take a closer look at Starlink, “a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream.”) From the opposite direction: arts, education, and entertainment are all moving toward Netflix, Coursera, and Monument Valley. PortaOne will be waiting out there at the crossroads.
Ok, But That’s a Decade! What’s About a Shorter Term?
In the short term, say five years, Andriy sees two trends:
- Smooth handover (not to be confused with a smooth hangover)
- Regulatory-mandated interoperability
“Like what Google Pay and Apple Pay did to cashless payments, we will see smoother calls and other conversation-type handovers,” he explains. “The click-to-call feature has been around for decades – or at least since the ICQ age.” Currently, though, it’s hard to call click-to-call “smooth.” The “messengers and VoIP clients zoo” is the usual suspect. Today, an average mobile user has at least two additional messaging apps installed. And that’s in addition to a smartphone’s native “phone calls” and “messages” apps.
Expect Regulators to Act
There was hope that mobile ecosystem vendors (hello, Apple, Google, and Samsung) would take matters into their own hands. However, Apple is still locked down to its proprietary device ecosystem, while Google seems deep within yet another iteration of its endless VoIP experiments. So, it seems there’s no end to the messengers’ competition to become “king of the mountain.” Most likely, government regulators will intrude to make things more interoperable. This summer, the European Commission already investigated Apple and Meta (hello, iMessage, WhatsApp, and Messenger).
Any real interoperability (XMPP was a great try, but no, Cisco) that is recognized and overseen by all the key market players would open enormous opportunities for businesses like PortaOne. And when that happens, we will deliver them all straight to you, our dear customers and prospects. Are you interested in continuing this conversation? Please contact us via Linkedin, firstname.lastname@example.org, or our website.