Analyst firm Gartner sees promise in soft switching, but says vendors must prove it will lead not only to lower ownership costs but to new revenue sources.
In a report published last year, Gartner researcher Pierrette Chabot noted "soft switch manufacturers should avoid business case claims that are too good to be true.
Manufacturers' profitability plans hinge on interoperability -- when traditional end-office functions are [made into] discrete network elements, real buying decisions cannot be expected to occur until all the pieces are in place and interoperating flawlessly."
Gartner Asia-Pacific research director Geoff Johnson says there are still some issues with reliability.
"In cases of abnormal loading, such as when there's a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, there's a need to ensure there isn't a saturation situation with the soft switch where it falls away."
The ability to change circuit switched traffic into IP traffic and back again is potentially of immense value, however. "If it can be turned into IP traffic, they can carry it much more cheaply."
The soft switch isn't the only factor in the long-term shift to IP, Johnson says. "It's one aspect of it -- it isn't the whole issue."
In another Gartner report, published in October, analyst Tim Smith states that there is a high probability that over the next two years, carriers will look at soft switch-based NGN (next generation network) technologies "to determine whether they will truly deliver the benefits of reduced capital expenditure, reduced operational expenditure and revenue opportunity".
There is a slightly lower probability that in the next three to five years: "IP-based technology such as stream control transmission protocol, multiprotocol label switching, resource reservation protocol, IPv6 and others will provide IP with required quality of service attributes and as a result, IP will mature sufficiently to become the basis for a real time communications network."
In another Gartner report, analyst Deborah Kish says "the current generation network requires multiple costly component ... with the evolution of the network [towards IP], vendors are manufacturing products that allow each carrier to offer tier-type service level agreements to their customers.
"This is where true interoperability between vendors comes to fruition."