Does Operator Connect spell the end for Direct Routing?

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January 25, 2023

Since Operator Connect launched last year, we’ve seen it increase in popularity as a solution to light up calling in Microsoft Teams. As the newest addition to the suite of solutions to enable external calling from Microsoft Teams, Operator Connect was a welcome middle-ground option, blending the best of Calling Plans and Direct Routing. And the popularity of Operator Connect is echoed in the work we’re doing, with an increasing number of customers selecting it as their PSTN connectivity method of choice.  

Operator Connect has changed the game

Before Operator Connect, Direct Routing was the usual path for enterprises, whose requirements extended beyond what Calling Plans could provide. Whilst Calling Plans go far to meet the needs of businesses with minimal calling requirements, they don’t always fit the bill for enterprises with more complex needs. For example, for those businesses operating in countries that Calling Plans don’t service, or for those needing greater feature parity with their previous telephone system, Direct Routing was the go-to approach.

There was also the issue of price, with Direct Routing posing some operational BAU (business as usual) cost savings, especially through providers who offered “pay for what you use” pricing options. 

Operator Connect was introduced somewhere between Calling Plans and Direct Routing. It offers the same ease of use as Calling Plans, where you can engage with Operators and configure your service from directly within your tenant. It also offers access to the cost-savings and flexibility of Direct Routing, but without the complex – and sometimes costly – setup configuration which requires a certain skillset. Instead it’s up the Operator to connect you with the right services.

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The Operator Connect proposition keeps getting stronger

In the past 18 months, we’ve watched Operator Connect evolve and mature with several noteworthy improvements. 

We’ve seen the product itself mature with more APIs added to help with provisioning of services. The interface has also had some tweaks, with filtering options making it easier to search for the right services for your tenant. 

And in their continued drive to increase the adoption of Teams Phone, Microsoft has introduced a variety of additions to Operator Connect including:

  • Operator Connect Conferencing: Just as Operator Connect allows you to work with your preferred PSTN provider, Operator Connect Conferencing allows you to choose your own conferencing service and bring it directly into your Teams environment for streamlined conferencing
  • Teams Mobile (previously Operator Connect Mobile): A device agnostic solution that allows for a better integration between a user’s Teams calls and mobile calls. Improves call quality whilst taking a Teams call on a mobile device and allows users to move calls across networks and devices
  • Operator Connect Accelerator: Aimed more at telcos and MSPs rather than end-users, this program expediates the onboarding of new PSTN providers to the operator ecosystem. This has expanded the Operator Connect provider database, revealing a pathway for new Operators to join the program, facilitated by one of the accredited partners.

The verdict for Direct Routing

Has Operator Connect made Direct Routing redundant? That certainly seems to be the case for many of our customers, except for those with special SBC requirements or more complex configurations. In most scenarios though, Operator Connect is on par with Direct Routing and stacks up in some key areas:
  • Security and Quality: Operator Connect uses trusted cross-connects, which are direct private links between the Microsoft & carrier networks. That means your calls need to go through one fewer hop on a public network, which contributes towards better quality and security. The same cross-connects are used for many Direct Routing scenarios, so for in this area, Operator Connect in on par with Direct Routing.

  • Configuration and provisioning: With Direct Routing, services needed to be provisioned internally through Microsoft PowerShell. Operator Connect removes that complexity, and instead allows users to use the Team Admin Centre interface which is easier and more initiative to use. Activating and deactivating users in Operator Connect is also easier than in Direct Routing, where licenses and configuration might need to be managed separately.

  • Coverage: This comes down to the carrier and is essentially equivalent for Operator Connect and Direct Routing as it depends on the Operator having the correct licenses in the countries you operate in. Services are delivered through direct connection with the carrier’s cloud-based voice network for both Operator Connect and Direct Routing, so it works in much the same way. However, for certain hard-to-reach countries, achieving adequate coverage requires the use of dedicated SBCs, configuration of which would need to be done through Direct Routing.
  • Integrations: Operator Connect, like Direct Routing, allows organizations to integrate Teams with other voice applications, such as contact centers, third party platforms, legacy systems and analogue devices. The capabilities to support this may vary by carrier. At Pure IP it is fully supported.

  • Costs: Before Operator Connect, one main benefit of Direct Routing was the cost savings in comparison with Calling Plans. Operator Connect however, taps into the same cost savings and in addition, the simplified provisioning process can provide savings over Direct Routing if external support is required for the initial configuration and set up.

In all, Operator Connect is on par with Direct Routing across key areas, which explains why we’re seeing the market lean towards it as the preferred option of connecting. But that’s not to say Direct Routing does not have its place. There are a handful of scenarios where customers would require Direct Routing. 

There are also scenarios where Operator Connect and Direct Routing can be used together. For example, you might have teams that only need basic telephone functionality, and can be added through Operator Connect, as well as teams with advanced call queue requirements that can only be satisfied through Direct Routing.

It’s also important to note that migration to Operator Connect or Direct Routing comes with its own unique challenges. To implement a new solution via either route, it’s best to work with a provider who has experience in both and understands the nuances of each solution and roadblocks around migration. 

So whilst Operator Connect has seen a wave of success since it launched, there is still a place in the mix for Direct Routing. Depending on technical requirement and personal preferences, both have their place. And it’s not necessarily a question of either/or as both options can coexist. We expect to see Operator Connect and Direct Routing as equals that will drive further adoption of Teams for enterprise voice.

Pure IP has worked with Microsoft for over a decade in designing solutions for their UC products, including Microsoft Teams. We were one of the original Operator Connect launch partners and have a wealth of experience implementing voice for Microsoft Teams and for customers of all sizes.

To discuss your project requirements or for more information on our Operator Connect or Direct Routing services, please contact us

Watch below:  Pure IP's Tom Arbuthnot and Diana Florea discuss whether Operator Connect spells the end for Direct Routing ⬇️



Tania Morrill

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