Beyond price - 5 key questions to choose the right Teams PSTN Operator


September 15, 2022

Working with the right PSTN connectivity provider is an essential step in making Microsoft Teams Phone work for your organization. And while price is an important factor in the decision-making process, there are other crucial value lead factors that can get pushed to the wayside. So, what is there to consider beyond price? 

It’s no secret that UCaaS is massively disrupting the Business Phone market, creating more competition in the PSTN (Public Switched Telephony Network) operator services market, phone numbers and minutes for users.

As organizations move to Microsoft Teams, it is a logical inflection point to consider their PSTN provider requirements and potentially switch to a different provider (or providers) more aligned to the organization's cloud requirements.

Microsoft Teams offers customers 3 different options to connect and manage phone numbers

  1. Microsoft Calling Plans, where you buy your numbers and minutes directly from Microsoft in the cloud, managed through the Teams Admin Center
  1. Operator Connect, where select Telecommunications providers, certified by Microsoft, interconnect with Microsoft, and offer phone number and minutes, managed in Teams Admin Center, much like Microsoft’s Calling Plans
  1. Direct Routing, which allows any customer or any provider to connect a certified Session Border Controller (SBC) to Microsoft Teams and then connect to any operator. Many Operators offer Direct Routing as a Service, where they also host and manage the session border controller for the customer. Note, this is managed through PowerShell rather than the Teams Admin Center

These are the 3 technical models and it is not unusual for organizations to utilize a combination of these, usually calling plans or operator connect for the majority of their users and Direct Routing for specific use cases that Operator Connect or Microsoft Calling Plans cannot meet.

See this blog for a breakdown of the 3 Microsoft Teams Phone PSTN connectivity models to better understand them.

The technical models do not dictate the commercial models. In fact there are many more commercial models, such as paying per user for a bundle of minutes, or paying per minute, or paying for minutes, numbers and “channels” of concurrent PSTN connectivity.

See this blog for a breakdown of  the best prices and commercial models for Teams Phone connectivity.

When deciding on a PSTN connectivity provider, price is of course an important factor in the decision-making process. Telephony is still a key service for most organizations and unfortunately the conversation about meeting this key requirement is all too often price lead rather than value lead. So, what is there to consider beyond price?

Here are 5 areas you should ask your potential provider about to ensure you are buying the right service for your organization’s needs and delivering value, not an apparently cheap service that turns out to not deliver what you need.

1. Is the PSTN operator certified and compliant?

PSTN connectivity is complex both technically and legally. While you can do many things to technically connect to the PSTN, not all of them are legal and compliant in all countries. Furthermore, some countries and even states within countries have very specific requirements to be compliant and have strict demands that need to be met.

Microsoft Teams customers have a shortcut here. Obviously if you trust Microsoft with Microsoft Teams, you likely trust that they are a compliant PSTN provider too in the countries they offer services.

In addition, the Operator Connect program certifies operators for PSTN connectivity with Microsoft Teams. To get this certification operators need to have meet specific technical, legal and support requirements. Any operator serious about Microsoft Teams will be on the Operator Connect program.

But not all countries are covered by Operator Connect, or Microsoft Calling Plans and unfortunately, there is no Microsoft certification program being a Direct Routing provider. Anyone can set themselves up as a “Direct Routing provider” so it is important to ensure you are working with an operator with a track record, references and experience in delivering PSTN connectivity in the counties you require.

Unfortunately, some cloud providers will claim to offer PSTN connectivity, but do not understand or consider the global legal and compliance implications, which could put your organization at risk.

2. Country coverage, and not just the "cloud countries" 

Most organizations look to minimize their providers, which in turn minimizes the commercial and legal engagement efforts and support effort of having multiple providers.

Some providers will chase the “easy” cloud serviceable countries, but cannot help you with all the countries you require service in.

Check that your operator can service all the countries you need. Confirm if this is as a cloud service or with local equipment. If they are an Operator Connect certified partner, which countries will be provided by operator connect (not all Operator Connect partners offer all their countries via Operator Connect). If they cannot provide cloud connectivity in countries for legal reasons, can the support local session border controllers or offer other solutions?

Look here for an example.

3. Support model - when you need help, will it be there?

Is the operator’s model self-service, a fully managed service, or something in-between?

It is of course cheaper for providers to only serve you through an online web portal, having you raise tickets online and wait for email replies, but is that the service level you are looking for?

Self-service has its place and can be part of the mix, but if you have an issue can you actually talk to someone who understands the issue and can help?

It is tricky to assess support until you experience it, but some important questions to ask are

  • What is their standard support process?
  • Are you triaged first and what does that mean wrt the SLA’s?
  • What is their escalation process?
  • Can you talk to an engineer?
  • Do you have a named account manager?

Also look to talk to a reference customer of similar scale to your organization.

4. Ability to deal with complex requirements such as analog, fax, PBX interop and support with porting and migration

As you move to Teams Phone, can the operator support your more complex requirements?

Existing PBX interop, Analog, fax, models, lift phones, alarms, contact center. These are just some PSTN connectivity areas that require special skills, knowledge and equipment. Can your operator support these requirements? Or are they only able to support basic PSTN connectivity, leaving you to manage the more complex scenarios in house or with other providers?

Also, does your provider have a professional services team who can support you with porting numbers and technical migration from existing PBXs? Are they a partner in your project, or just a provider?

5. Reporting and billing

Last but not least, what can the provider offer when it comes to reporting and billing?

  • Do they offer usage reporting?
  • Do they offer quality reporting? If your users experience an issue, what reporting can they provide?
  • Do they understand Teams reporting? Can they offer you support with reporting on your complete Teams end to end experience?
  • Can they break down billing by country or business unit?
  • Do they have any other tools available to support the management process?

Many organizations have complex billing and reporting requirements and not all operators have the flexibility to meet these.

Conclusion - making the right decision for your organization

You absolutely should look at price when considering a PSTN operator, but you must consider your organizations requirements. Are you looking for a partner to work with your organization? What does the provider bring to the table in terms of additional value to your organization?

These are questions you should be sure you have the answer to before you are making your choice of Teams Phone System Operator.

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