July 16, 2022
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Microsoft Teams: Calling Plans vs Operator Connect vs Direct Routing

In a previous article, we discussed how Direct Routing in Teams works. Today, we’re going to discuss another similar feature that provides PSTN connectivity with Teams and Phone System. This new service is called Operator Connect. This is an operator managed service that allows businesses to directly enable PSTN calling from their existing carriers in Microsoft Teams. This new service benefits smaller sized businesses that want to operate and manage their own phone numbers directly through Teams. In this article, we're going to evaluate the different plans in Teams Phone System: Calling Plans vs Operator Connect vs Direct Routing.

For larger businesses that have comparatively more complicated needs, Operator Connect might not have the flexibility required to support hybrid working or other key functions such as call center. Operator Connect vs Direct Routing: these are two capabilities by Microsoft for basic voice services that help Teams evolve into a business phone system.


What is Operator Connect in Microsoft Teams?

Operator Connect is an operator managed service that brings PSTN calling to Teams. With Operator Connect, businesses can bring their own PSTN carrier (from Microsoft’s approved list, obviously) to enable Microsoft Teams calling via a managed service.

IT admins can easily connect their provider and assign phone numbers to users all from within the tab labelled “Operators” directly within the Teams admin dashboard.

Operator Connect basically closes the gap between Microsoft calling plans and direct routing, allowing businesses to benefit from some of the cost savings that come from direct routing while choosing their own carrier. For smaller business with under 50 employees and no complex requirements, Operator Connect could be the ideal choice for the ideal calling experience in teams.

 Operator Connect users with Microsoft also get direct peering between the SIP Trunking infrastructure and Team's platform.


Benefits of Operator Connect

  • Cost savings of a direct routing service – pay for what you use instead of paying per user
  • Bring your own carrier for outbound calls and inbound calls  
  • It’s a simple solution for a business with no complex requirements
  • Can be activated quickly
  • Internal IT teams can assign telephone numbers to active users without having to go through an external service provider 
  • Useful for businesses that want to manage their communications within the Teams admin contact center
  • Operator connect conferencing
  • Operator Connect allows you to bring your own operator to Teams with a fully managed and integrated experience.
  • Operator Connect Conferencing makes it easy to add dial-in numbers to Microsoft Audio Conferencing. 


What is Direct Routing?

In comparison to Operator Connect, Direct Routing is a carrier-grade service that provides more power and flexibility and remains the better choice as a telephony solution for larger businesses with more complex requirements.

Microsoft Phone System Direct Routing lets you connect a supported, customer-provided Session Border Controller (SBC) to Microsoft Phone System. With this capability, for example, you can configure on-premises Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) connectivity with Microsoft Teams client.

Direct Routing

With Direct Routing solutions, you can connect your SBC to almost any telephony trunk or interconnect with third-party PSTN equipment. Direct Routing enables you to:

  • Use any PSTN trunk with Microsoft Phone System for a modern calling experience.
  • Configure interoperability between customer-owned telephony equipment, such as a third-party private branch exchange (PBX), analog devices, and Microsoft Phone System.

Microsoft also offers all-in-the-cloud voice solutions, such as Calling Plan. However, a hybrid voice solution might be best for your organization if:

  • Microsoft Calling Solution is not available in your country.
  • Your organization requires connection to third-party analog devices, call centers, external provider and so on.
  • Your organization has an existing contract with a PSTN carrier.

Direct Routing also supports users who have the additional license and service level agreements for the Microsoft Calling Plan.


Benefits of Teams Direct Routing

  • Lets you leverage your existing contracts
  • Your IT Admins can run adoption programs and batch migrations while allowing Teams users and non-Teams users to communicate with each other.
  • Teams Direct Routing eliminates the need for any call carrying equipment
  • Cost efficient service model
  • Direct routing allows companies to maintain control over its phone numbers and dial plan, rather than porting numbers directly to Microsoft. 


Calling Plans vs Operator Connect vs Direct Routing

Now that we have the overview of what the two services do, let’s see how they’re compared to each other.


Direct Routing

Operator Connect

Microsoft Calling Plans

Communication Square iPilot

Native Teams Call Routing

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

Shared Trunk/ Call Path sharing plans

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

eFax & traditional fax solutions

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

SMS Integrations

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

Dynamic Emergency Calling

Optional

 ✔

 ✔

 ✔

Direct Connection to Microsoft via MAPS

Only Approved Carriers

 ✔

Carrier Level Forwarding

 ✔

Disaster Plans

 ✔

Automated Bulk Provisioning

Bulk via Powershell

 ✔

Converting DIDs between User & Service Number

Via Microsoft Ticket

 ✔

Managing multiple carrier DIDs in 1 Portal

 ✔

 ✔

Manage Direct Routing & Operator Connect DIDs in 1 Portal

 ✔

Department level access for phone number management

 ✔

Extension Dialing

 ✔

Changes in working practices due to the pandemic mean that many businesses now have more complicated requirements if they are to fully support their remote working teams. Distributed teams are working online and although face-to-face meetings will return, many businesses will adopt, in whole or in part, flexible working practices. For businesses to meet these changing demands, flexibility and dedicated tailored support is a must to keep communication flowing and business moving. 


Teams Phone System Setup Options

There are two setup options for your Teams Phone Setup Options.

1. Existing Telecom Provider

2. Microsoft as Phone Provider


1. Existing Telecom Provider

For having a Teams Phone System setup where there is an existing telecom provider is present, it primarily revolves around two scenarios:

1.1 Direct Routing

1.2 Skype for Business Hybrid Voice


1.1 Direct Routing

Microsoft Teams Phone System Direct Routing lets you connect a supported, customer-provided Session Border Controller (SBC) to Microsoft Phone System. With this capability, for example, you can configure on-premises Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) connectivity with Microsoft Teams client

1.1.1 Connecting your existing PBX

1.1.2 Direct Routing Supported Devices


1.1.1 Connecting your existing PBX

When you’re having your lines with a local provider (existing PBX) already and would not like to drop it as your number’s provider, you have the option of integrating it with MS Teams using Direct Routing and you’d be able to continue using the same lines from your provider with no issues.

Microsoft Phone System Direct Routing is the service inside of Teams that allows organizations to connect existing PBX (external phone lines) and use Teams as an office phone system.

To use Direct Routing, one would need a Session Border Controller (SBC) to provision this functionality which allows to connect to the existing PBX (local provider) and use it with MS Teams with no issues.

Direct Routing
1.1.2 Direct Routing Supported Devices

Microsoft only supports certified SBCs to pair with Direct Routing. Because Enterprise Voice is critical for businesses, Microsoft runs intensive tests with the selected SBCs, and works with the SBC vendors to ensure the two systems are compatible. The best example for a ceritified Cloud SBC is the Ribbon SBC Lite. 

Devices that have been validated are listed as Certified for Teams Direct Routing. The certified devices are guaranteed to work in all scenarios.


1.2 Skype for Business Hybrid Voice

Now where we are using Skype for Business Server 2019 and you’d like to start using MS Teams in parallel without porting numbers from your local PBX to Microsoft for PSTN connectivity to use with MS Teams, you have the option of Hybrid Voice.

You may always enable On-Premise PSTN connectivity with MS Teams where you’re having a Hybrid Setup with Skype for Business Server and users migrated to Teams would be able to use the same line as were using in On-Premise Setup.


2. Microsoft as Phone Provider

When we are talking about Microsoft as a Phone Provider, actually we are talking about pure Cloud PBX setup. Where all of your phone lines either would be purchased directly from MS for a new Setup or would be ported over to MS from some local provider (existing PBX) to continue using them.


2.1 Cloud PBX

For the Cloud PBX setup, we primarily have two scenarios to discuss:

2.1.1 Porting Phone Numbers to Microsoft

2.1.2 Migrating from Skype for Business


2.1.1 Porting Phone Numbers to Microsoft

You may always use the porting wizard in the Microsoft Teams admin center to transfer your phone numbers from your current service provider to Teams. After you port your phone numbers to Teams, you’d be able to continue your existing lines with it but here onwards Microsoft will become your service provider and will bill you for those phone numbers.


2.1.2 Migrating from Skype for Business

When we talk about migrating from Skype for Business, we have two options to discuss.

2.1.2.1 Migrating from Skype for Business Online

2.1.2.2 Migrating from Skype for Business Server


2.1.2.1 Migrating from Skype for Business Online

To have the help in detail for Upgrading from Skype for Business Online to Microsoft Teams.

Now when you’ve migrated to Teams. Your Phone System should work as it was working earlier but there are somethings to note for the PSTN connectivity.

  • Phone System with Teams is supported once the user is in TeamsOnly mode. (If the user is in Islands mode, Phone System is only supported with Skype for Business.)
  • If users already have a Microsoft Calling Plan with a phone number, the only required change is to assign the user TeamsOnly mode in TeamsUpgradePolicy. Prior to assigning TeamsOnly mode, incoming PSTN calls will land in the user’s Skype for Business client. After the upgrade to TeamsOnly mode, incoming PSTN calls will land in the user’s Teams client.


2.1.2.2 Migrating from Skype for Business Server

This portion will help you through if you’re looking to migrate to MS Teams from Skype for Business Server and using an existing PBX infrastructure with it. After the migration, your PSTN provider would be MS and all your numbers would reside with it.


Microsoft Teams Certified Devices

To enhance your experience with Microsoft Teams Audio and Video conferencing, there are certainly a wholesome certified devices to use with Teams that’d not only allow to satisfy your needs but would greatly enhance the Teams experience.

The devices would include Meeting Rooms equipment, Desk Phones etc.


Teams Phone System Licensing and Pricing

There are two core things to look for when we talk about licensing our Teams for PSTN connectivity and enabling it for voice capabilities:

1. Microsoft Phone System

2. Domestic and International Calling Plan Options


1. Microsoft Phone System

To enable a user for voice/PSTN connectivity, it should be assigned with a Teams Phone System license. Each user to opt for the PSTN functionality should be licensed with it. There are several combinations using which you may enable the user for it.

1.1 Microsoft 365 Business Subscription + Business Voice

1.2 Office 365 E1 + Phone System + Calling Plan

1.3 Office 365 E3 + Phone System + Calling Plan

1.4 Office 365 E5 + Calling Plan


1.1 Microsoft 365 Business Subscription + Business Voice

You may acquire the Microsoft 365 Business subscription that would enable your user for Teams plus other needs to follow. To decide between Microsoft 365 Business Subscriptions, you may look into this article.

Now when you have acquired any of the Microsoft 365 Business Subscription, you’d need to assign each user with another license bundle from Microsoft which is Business Voice.

Business Voice comes with Phone System license which enables the user for PSTN connectivity and also provide the Domestic Calling plan which we may say is the pool of minutes for the user to use from for local PSTN calls. A bonus we may say also comes in this bundle which is a license of Audio Conferencing and enables Dial in Audio Conferencing. Business Voice would cost $20 per user /month.

You may buy an add on for International Calling Plan to enable users to call internationally which would cost additional $12 per user /month in this option.


1.2 Office 365 E1 + Phone System + Calling Plan

Another option to go with is the cheapest of all from Office 365 Enterprise plans which is E1 costing at $8 per user /month. It’d enable the user for MS Teams. To have the user enabled for PSTN connectivity, one need to assign each user with Phone System add on which would cost $8 per user /month.

To give a pool of minutes to a user to use for PSTN calls, one need to assign a calling plan. For its options, you may refer to its section in the end of article.


1.3 Office 365 E3 + Phone System + Calling Plan

The second to choose from Office 365 Enterprise plans is E3 which enables the user for Teams and costs $20 per user /month. To have the user enabled for PSTN connectivity, one need to assign each user with Phone System add on which would cost $8 per user /month.

To give a pool of minutes to a user to use for PSTN calls, one need to assign a calling plan. For its options, you may refer to its section in the end of article.


1.4 Office 365 E5 + Calling Plan

Being the best of the lot from Office 365 Enterprise plans, E5 not only enable the user for MS Teams but Phone System license would come along with it. E5 would cost $35 per user /month.

To give a pool of minutes to a user to use for PSTN calls, one need to assign a calling plan. For its options, you may refer to its section in the end of article.


2. Domestic and International Calling Options

To give a pool of minutes to a user to use for PSTN calls, one need to assign a calling plan. Calling plans are offered in two options from Microsoft.

2.1 Domestic Calling Plan

2.2 Domestic and International Calling Plan


2.1 Domestic Calling Plan

Licensed users can call out to numbers located in the country/region where they are assigned in Microsoft 365 or Office 365. It’d cost $12 each user /month.


2.2 Domestic and International Calling Plan

Licensed users can call out to numbers located in the country/region where their Microsoft 365 or Office 365 license is assigned to the user based on the user's location, and to international numbers in 196 countries/regions. It’d cost $24 each user /month.


As new options emerge that make Microsoft Teams, a unified communications solution, an even more essential resource for businesses, consider how to make the most of the tools available to you. As one of a few official Microsoft Gold Partners, Communication Square can support seamless integrations and provide the right tools and support to deliver end-to-end, fully managed digital communication and the right collaboration solution for companies. 

Last Updated 2 months ago

About the Author

Rijah is a professional Marketing Executive & content specialist. You may know her from her greatest hits like, "No, I can't just make it go viral." or "No, you can't have everybody as your audience." and "Yes, you're absolutely going to need a copywriter!"

Rijah Naseem

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