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Success With Skype: Building a Cloud PBX Using new E5 CAL
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:
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:
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:
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?