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Teams Calling: Microsoft Lays Out New Option, More Updates

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Screen grab of voice-enabled channels in Microsoft Teams
Source: Microsoft Teams blog
Microsoft this week shared a number of updates around voice calling in Teams, including a new twist — a managed services option via what it calls the Operator Connect platform, entering public preview next quarter with a dozen different launch partners, such as BlueJeans by Verizon, Intrado, and Tata Communications.
As stated in a Microsoft Teams blog, the Operator Connect platform is meant to enable enterprises to select their own PSTN carrier for Teams Calling via a managed service model vs. doing so on their own vis a vis Direct Routing. When using an Operator Connect partner for PSTN calling, IT will be able to connect to the provider and assign phone numbers to users from within an “Operators” tab in the Teams admin dashboard — no telephony expertise required or carrier negotiations to finesse. For enterprises that have relationships with the Operator Connect partners, this means the ability to keep that provider or providers and associated voice contracts, Microsoft said.
Another potential boon, should an enterprise opt for this model, is savings on purchase of requisite session border controllers (SBCs), as well as management of those and the PSTN calling. Those, of course, would fall under the purview of the managed services providers signed on to use the Operator Connect platform.
Additionally, Operator Connect partners get direct peering between the Teams platform and their own SIP trunking infrastructure. Direct peering should afford greater reliability for these services, Microsoft said. Besides the carriers mentioned above, the other initial Operator Connect partners are BT, Deutsche Telekom, NTT, NuWave Communications, Orange Business Services, PureIP, Rogers, Swisscom, and Telenor. Microsoft intends to grow the number of partners over time, as noted in the announcement blog.
Operator Connect should be an attractive model, particularly for enterprises that don’t want to manage their own SBCs, Irwin Lazar, president and principal analyst at IT research firm Metrigy, shared via email with No Jitter. “It looks to greatly simplify the process of migrating PSTN connectivity to Teams Phone System by integrating configuration with the Teams Admin Center,” he added.
Enterprises now in the process of moving to Teams Phone System with a SIP trunk provider that isn’t an Operator Connect partner have a few options, Lazar noted. They can: 1) carry on with that migration, 2) wait for their preferred provider to become Operator Connect-certified, or 3) go with a different SIP provider that is OC certified, he said.
“Given the non-[Operator Connect] providers such as AT&T, Bandwidth, SIPPIO, etc. do have mature partnerships with certified SBC vendors like Ribbon, AudioCodes, Oracle, etc., even going to a non-OC provider should be relatively painless, though they won't offer the same level of management integration as the OC providers, at least in the short term. I expect that the remaining providers will quickly work to get certified,” Lazar added.
Separately, Microsoft said it plans a conferencing service that uses the same interface as Operator Connect to allows admins to bring their own provider dial-in numbers to a Teams audioconferencing bridge. Starting partners for this managed service option are BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services, and Telenor; they will be entering private preview next quarter, Microsoft said.
Among the other updates, Microsoft is expanding the availability of Teams Calling Plans to eight new markets, bringing the total to 26. It will add on the new markets — Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Singapore, and Slovakia — from April through June, as stated in the announcement blog.
Additionally, it has expanded the number of SBCs for use with Direct Routing with six additional certifications and has moved its survivable branch appliance into general availability. This appliance enables PSTN calling should an outage prevent a Teams client to connect to Microsoft’s services, Microsoft said. And, it has introduced a preview of a SIP Gateway option that it said will bring Teams calling functionality to legacy phones from AudioCodes, Cisco, Poly, and Yealink. Depending on the phone, these capabilities could be the ability to make, receive, and transfer calls; dial into meetings; and use of device-based do not disturb and voicemail indicators, Microsoft said.
And, by the end of this month, Teams admins will be able to enable Teams channels with voice if they so choose. As described in the blog, this capability allows for any Teams channel to become a team-based call queue, so callers can collaborate and share information before, during, and after a call.