The State of Telephony in Microsoft Office 365

Posted by Max Hervé on May 24, 2018

More and more organizations are moving their on-premises infrastructure and applications 65502842_mto Microsoft cloud. An option that is not yet widely explored is the use of Office 365 for telephony workloads. Microsoft Office 365 provides a Cloud-only PBX solution which covers the basic calling scenarios, and which can be used along with your familiar Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams client.

Telephony Functionality Available in Office 365

Having originally started out with Instant Messaging (IM)/Presence features and Lync Online, Microsoft has since then replaced Lync Online with Skype for Business Online (SFBO) and has been gradually adding telephony capabilities to that service. While users could place and receive phone calls (PSTN calls) at first using Skype for Business Online Calling Plans, there were no Voice features available to use with Office numbers, nor routing queues, which made it very challenging for companies to move their phone services over to Office 365.

Some of the most sought-after Voice features in Office 365 for an organization that are now available are the following:

  • Auto-Attendant is a feature that allows callers to access a voice menu system when dialing office numbers.
  • Call Queues is a feature that allows a call to ring all agents simultaneously or to ring all agents one by one.
  • Audio Conferencing is a feature that can be used to replace your existing web conferencing solution. This provides a meeting workspace that can be accessed via the Skype for Business (SFB) client and/or via a bridge number.

With regard to employees, Office 365 Voice capabilities allow an organization to assign its users with phone numbers (with/without voicemail), as well as give them the ability to receive and place calls from their desktop or mobile device. Users can then use a headset along with their Skype for Business/Microsoft Teams client as their main phone system. For users who prefer having a traditional phone experience, there are some Office 365 supported phones that are also available. Check them out here.

In terms of Enterprise licensing, these Auto-Attendant, Call Queues and other phone system features are part of the Microsoft Office 365 E5 plan or can be procured with the “Phone System” add-on (formerly named “Cloud PBX”). “Audio Conferencing” is also part of the E5 plan or can be purchased as an add-on. Additionally, regardless of what license users have (E1, E3, E5), they will need either a Domestic or International Calling Plan license to place and receive PSTN phone calls. For example, the cost for an E3 user to obtain the full Voice suite would be $24/month ($8 for the Phone System, $12 for the Domestic Calling Plan and $4 for Audio Conferencing). Calls placed among employees of your organization will be considered peer-to-peer and will therefore not require any of the add-on Voice licenses.

Reasons to Migrate to Office 365 Telephony
For organizations that do not leverage unique PBX features in their current environment, Office 365 can be a great candidate as a Cloud PBX solution to replace a costly and complex on-premises PBX. Moving to Office 365 is also a good option for organizations who are currently using Voice, Web Conferencing and Screenshare/IM/Presence capabilities across multiple applications, because it allows them to consolidate all of these needs onto one platform.

Furthermore, office and employee phone numbers can easily be ported to Office 365 and Auto-Attendant/Call Queue rules re-created, which will ensure a smooth transition to Office 365 Voice.

As previously mentioned, end users will have the option to either use headsets and soft clients on their desktops or use Office 365 compatible phones to get the more traditional phone experience and minimize disruption.

Voice Clients in Office 365: Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams 
Historically, Lync and then Skype for Business, have been the to-go clients for IM/Presence/Enterprise Voice capabilities in Office 365.  Microsoft Teams has been recently ramping up its telephony capabilities with the intent to replace Skype for Business, which was confirmed by a Microsoft announcement indicating their intent to use Microsoft Teams as the single communication client experience.

You are now able to track the upcoming features on the following 2018 Roadmap.

(Please note that the Call Queues and Auto-Attendant ETA for Microsoft Teams is Q2 2018, and the Call Park and Group Call Pick up ETA is Q4 2018)

If you are planning on rolling out Teams to your environment for collaboration purposes this year and if you have some interest in porting your telephony system to Office 365, you can leverage your ongoing project as an opportunity for a Microsoft Teams Proof of Concept for both collaboration and IM/Presence/Voice. While you could always deploy Microsoft Teams for collaboration and Skype for Business for telephony, this would introduce even more clients for your end users to work with. Furthermore, if you already have Skype for Business deployed to your organization, as Skype for Business will eventually be phased out, now is the time to start planning on leveraging Teams for your communication tool of choice.

Interested in learning more about different Cloud PBX scenarios, hybrid deployments or ready to get started with a Microsoft Teams Proof of Concept? Contact us online or by calling 240-406-9960.

Topics: Office 365, microsoft teams

Max Hervé

Max Hervé is a Senior Consultant at Withum. Max has over 6 years of consulting experience in Microsoft Technologies. With a background in networking and infrastructure, he has worked on solving complex business problems using Office 365, SharePoint, Skype for Business and Exchange.

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