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AudioCodes Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams

Getting More from Microsoft Teams

30 Sep 2020

Microsoft Teams as a collaboration tool has been adopted by an increasing number of organizations to help support a more distributed workforce due to COVID-19. By May 2020, Microsoft reported over 75 million daily active Teams users, having added 31 million new active users in the month of April alone.

Further fueling the increased adoption of Teams, Microsoft has increased the pace of new feature introduction, recently releasing enhanced meeting capabilities, such as gallery view, custom backgrounds, pop out chats and meetings, live transcription, and “hand raising” in meetings, matching many capabilities found in Zoom. Additionally, Microsoft has previewed unique features such as “together mode” that uses AI segmentation technology to make it appear as if all participants were in the same virtual auditorium. According to Microsoft, this new mode reduces “video fatigue.”

In parallel, Microsoft has been increasing size limits, now supporting Teams up to 10,000 people and meetings and chats up to 300 people, as well as introducing versions of Teams targeted at front line workers and family and friends.

For the increasing number of organizations that have found success adopting Teams chat, collaboration and meeting functions, adding calling capabilities enables additional use cases and may provide increased business benefits.

The Public-Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN for short, is what connects all “regular” phones including mobile phones. Being connected to the PSTN is what allows you to call anyone worldwide by dialing their phone number, and this same connection allows anyone to contact you by dialing your direct inward dial (DID) number, a phone number, or in the case of some businesses by calling a main office number and entering an extension. In the case where an extension is required, the main office number is connected to the PSTN and the company’s PBX (private branch exchange) equipment, which could be Microsoft Teams, handles the routing of calls by extension within the organization.

Enabling calling in Microsoft Teams requires both a Phone System license and a Calling Plan. Phone System licenses are included as part of E5 licenses and available for an additional $8/user/month add-on to E1 and E3 licenses. Calling plans are available directly from Microsoft or through a mechanism called Direct Routing.

Perhaps the easiest way to connect to the PSTN is to sign up for a calling plan from Microsoft. In this case, Microsoft acts as your telephony provider. You can request new phone numbers directly from Microsoft, via the Office 365 Admin portal, or port existing numbers to Microsoft. This solution is deployed 100% in the cloud and ranges from $12/user/month for domestic calling to $24/user/month including international calling (U.S. prices based on a pooled 3,000 minutes of domestic calling and 600 international minutes; rates and minute allowances vary in other countries).

While this is arguably the simplest way to provide PSTN services, using Microsoft as a carrier does not support on-premises PBX integrations, analog devices, or hybrid user scenarios, and is only available in a limited number of countries. Furthermore, for medium and large organizations, the Microsoft calling plans may prove to be more expensive than other options.

Direct Routing, the second mechanism to connect Teams to the PSTN, provides more flexibility and is available in all geographies. To connect to the PSTN using direct routing, a session border controller (SBC) is installed in order to transcode media and signaling between Teams and the PSTN. The SBC is connected via a SIP trunk or PRI  connection to the PSTN or to an existing on-premises PBX.

While Direct Routing can be more complicated, it enables several important scenarios:

  • Typically allows organizations to continue multi-year existing telecom contracts; potentially avoiding early termination fees.
  • Supports a hybrid user scenario where some users make use of an existing PBX and other users leverage Microsoft Teams as their PBX. This also allows for a phased transition from on-premises to the cloud in larger organizations.
  • Allows for the connection of analog devices, including analog phones, fax machines, alarms or doorbells, and paging equipment.
  • Supports more complex inbound or outbound “number manipulation” where caller ID information is manipulated by the SBC.
  • Can support specific call routing scenarios not yet supported by Microsoft Teams.
  • In many cases may reduce overall telecom spend for medium and large organizations.

Today, many vendors offer Direct Routing hardware and many carriers offer SIP trunk connections to the PSTN. While Direct Routing initially relied on on-premises SBC hardware, several providers have started to offer cloud-based SBC capabilities, removing the requirement for any additional on-premises equipment.

One of the companies offering a Direct Routing solution is AudioCodes, which has combined multiple Direct Routing options in a new “AudioCodes Live” managed service, that provides a complete package of deployment, support and monitoring services; everything you need to add calling to Microsoft Teams and keep it working well.

The AudioCodes Live service provides both fully cloud-based SBC capability, for those organizations that want quick and easy setup, or on-premises hardware, leveraging AudioCodes proven hardware SBCs, for organizations requiring more options.

The AudioCodes Live for Teams managed service is available in an Essentials, Pro, or Premium configuration. All configurations seek to deliver:

  • Improved operations and reduced expenses by outsourcing voice infrastructure management to focused experts
  • Reduced downtime through proactive service and monitoring
  • Shorter support response times and repair times
  • Pricing certainty - Service is priced and billed as an ongoing operating expense per user per month (which optionally can also include additional products such as analog devices, desk phone, conference and video devices)
  • Best-practice expertise and experience. AudioCodes knows its products better than anyone, and has been in the managed services business for several years

A quick summary of the various standard packages is shown below. Customization of the specific feature set is available if required.

 

ESSENTIALS
PRO
PREMIUM
Managed Teams Direct Routing SBC
All features of ESSENTIALS plus:                                                
All features of PRO plus:
 
Employee life-cycle management (MACDs)
On-premises integration and migration services
 
Tenant management
Fully managed service
 
Periodic reporting
Flexible deployment options including data centers, branch offices, cloud
From $1.20/user/month
From $3.50/user/month
From $10.00/user/month
Source: https://liveteams.audiocodes.com

 

With all tiers, AudioCodes allows you to bring your own telephony contract or add unlimited North American calling (through AudioCodes) for $10/user/month.

AudioCodes also can provide Teams IP Phones (such as the AudioCodes 400HD series) or meeting room devices (such as the RX series of audio and video devices) on a per user per month basis, and has partnered with Jabra to provide headsets in a similar fashion. This opens the possibility for a complete OPEX voice solution that includes devices.

Leveraging the power of its SmartTap 360 product,  compliance call recording can be added to any of the managed plans for $6/user/month, allowing companies to capture and index any customer or organizational interactions across both external and internal communication channels, including all voice, video and IMs. Beyond call recording for compliance purposes, AudioCodes offers their Meeting Insights solution, providing speech-to-text capture, key word spotting and an in-meeting voice assistance (which they call Mia) that helps log action items, decisions and capture meeting notes.

AudioCodes Live for Microsoft Teams, along with devices and optional add-on capabilities, is available through AudioCodes extensive partner network, which includes global telecom providers and Microsoft Office 365 partners.

As organizations look to prepare for the future of work, which almost certainly includes a more distributed workforce, adding PSTN calling to Microsoft Teams can greatly improve flexibility and truly enable employees to work efficiently from anywhere. The AudioCodes Live set of managed services is both a flexible and straightforward option that should be considered.


This paper is sponsored by AudioCodes.

 

 

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