Success With Skype: Building a Cloud PBX Using new E5 CAL
This latest in a series exploring how to succeed with Skype for Business takes a look at Microsoft's new cloud communication services and pricing.
As announced today, Microsoft will open general availability on Tuesday, Dec. 1, for the cloud-based Skype for Business services that have up until now only been in preview. These new services, available as part of a new E5 CAL as well as separately, make it possible for companies in the U.S. to use Office 365 as their complete voice communications system, no longer requiring an on-premises PBX.
The two key components making a complete Microsoft voice PBX possible are:
- PSTN Calling – allows users of Office 365-hosted Skype for Business to make calls to and receive calls from regular phones and phone numbers. Before the availability of PSTN Calling, Office 365 Skype for Business users could only call people who were also using Lync or Skype for Business. With PSTN Calling, Microsoft acts as your carrier and can port your existing phone numbers or assign new phone numbers (DIDs). This service is initially only available in the U.S. with expansion into Western Europe expected during 2016.
- Cloud PBX – provides more advanced call control features such as hold, resume (take people off hold), forward, transfer, simultaneous ring, team ring and delegation (which supports boss-admin scenario). Microsoft says the feature set will grow over time but will not have parity with the features of an on-premises Skype for Business deployment until the end of 2017.
With respect to PSTN Calling, as noted above, the feature is initially only available in the U.S. However, another option is PSTN Connectivity, which connects Office 365 Skype for Business to the PSTN through equipment that remains on a customer's premises. Microsoft offers several options for achieving this, but has only recently posted the documentation for either to TechNet in preview mode. Those are the "Cloud PBX with on-premises PSTN connectivity in Skype for Business Server 2015" and "hybrid voice with no on-premises server deployment" (also referred to as the Cloud Connector edition).
Beyond the two core voice components, two additional services come with the new licensing:
- PSTN Conferencing – allows Office 365-hosted audio conferences to include participants who dial in from ordinary phones. PSTN Conferencing also allows you to dial out to bring participants into a meeting. Without PSTN Conferencing only participants within your company or at federated organizations can join conferences. PSTN Conferencing will initially be available in the following countries:
- Skype Meeting Broadcast – enables broadcasting a Skype for Business meeting to up to 10,000 participants. Participants can attend using a browser-based application on almost any device. This is a one-to-many webcast. Note there are no limits or additive costs for unauthenticated attendees of a Skype Meeting Broadcast, nor is there a per-meeting charge. If you want to have the participants authenticated, then those participants would require a license.
What Will It Cost?
The new E5 Office 365 CAL seemingly includes everything and the kitchen sink for $35/user/month. On top of this, PSTN Calling adds $24/user/month if you want both domestic and international dialing plans. PSTN Calling for domestic-only calling is half this price at $12/user/month.
You can also choose to add Cloud PBX capabilities to either the E1 or E3 CALs for $8/user/month. Then you would likely need to add either domestic or international calling plans for $12/user/month and $24/user/month, respectively.
With all of the calling plans, Microsoft allocates 3,000 minutes of calling per month per user. The minutes are pooled and shared across all of your users, so if you have 10 users then you would have a total pool of 10 x 3,000 = 30,000 calling minutes, for instance.
According to Microsoft, the base E5 CAL delivers $90/user/month of value for only $35/user/month. It attributes much of this "value" to the included analytics (Power BI and Delve) and the eDiscovery features (Equivio), so the value you perceive will depend on which of the E5 features you need.
Interestingly, Microsoft has added the Skype Meeting Broadcast feature, which allows up to 10,000 attendees to join a conference using a browser for audio, video and content, to the base E1 CAL. This capability then accrues to the E3 and E5 CALs.
Additionally, Microsoft has added a new Task Management feature to the E1 CAL. This capability is based on the Office 365 Planner announced in late September. Planner allows teams to create new plans, organize and assign tasks, share files, and chat about what they are working on. Planner also appears to have an attractive project dashboard where you can quickly check a project's status. I suspect small and medium-sized companies will use the task management capability more than the analytics and eDiscovery capabilities.
With the introduction of the E5 CAL, Microsoft continues executing on an aggressive, multiyear roadmap that seeks to add many new voice and communications services to the Office 365 cloud. If you are looking to leverage the new E5 voice services in the short term, you should keep several key limitations in mind:
- For reliable voice you will need a guaranteed connection to the Office 365 data center. Any of these cloud services requires an Azure ExpressRoute connection to Office 365 in order to provide consistent voice quality. ExpressRoute enables customers to create private connections between their premises and Microsoft data centers. Microsoft has announced that its partners AT&T, BT, Colt, Equinix, Level 3 Communications, Orange Business Services, Tata Communications, Telstra, Verizon, and Vodafone will deliver direct connections. Make sure you consider the additional cost of this element. Some small or medium business, especially ones with many remote workers, may choose to forego an ExpressRoute connection and simply rely on an over-the-top (OTT) connection via the Internet.
- Microsoft currently only supports select Microsoft IP sets. It supports some phones running Lync Phone Edition (LPE) and several models within the VVX line from Polycom: Polycom VVX 600, 500, 400, 300, 201; Polycom CX600 and CX3000; HP 4120; and Mitel MiVoice 6725 (previous sold as Aastra 6725 ip). For many of these phones to work, you'll need to apply the latest firmware updates.
- At present, you cannot support common area phones with Skype for Business Online.
- Cloud PBX does not support some advanced calling features. If you need paging, call park, response groups (ACD), multiline appearance, or other advanced PBX functions, you may need to wait.
- All of these services are new and might be subject to "Version 1" issues. Conservative organizations should start with small pilots.
Microsoft first talked about PSTN connectivity and Office 365 in February 2013. At that time, Microsoft was hoping to bring these services to market by August 2014. While a year late, it is exciting to be able to explore these new options, at least in the U.S., starting tomorrow.
Are you excited about the new Office 365 E5 CAL? Do you plan to move your voice services to Office 365 any time soon? If not, what are your concerns? What do you think of the pricing model? Do you agree with Microsoft that the E5 CAL provides $90 of value for $35 per month?Follow Kevin Kieller on Twitter and Google+!
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