What is the difference between Operator Connect, Microsoft Calling Plans, and Direct Routing for Teams?

How to / Guide

June 2, 2021

With over 145 million daily users and rising, it is no surprise to see Microsoft continually announcing new features and developments for their unified communications platform, Teams. One area they have clearly prioritized in recent months is the development of Teams Calling options, as part of a strategy to increase the number of businesses using Teams as their telephone system.

With Operator Connect, for example, Microsoft aims to streamline the process by enabling customers to add external PSTN calling to Teams from directly within the Teams admin center. Now that the new service is live and available on public preview, Pure IP CEO, Gary Forrest, took the opportunity to speak to No Jitter about the nuances between the different options for adding voice services to Microsoft Teams. We have reposted the article below with their permission.


Calling Plans vs. Operator Connect vs. Direct Routing

Together with Direct Routing and Microsoft’s own Calling Plans, Operator Connect presents users with a third option for migrating their telephony to Teams. One way to think about it is that these options represent three alternatives on a sliding scale, with Operator Connect positioned in the middle as an option that balances the convenience of ordering services through Microsoft with the flexibility of Direct Routing.

Although on the surface these three voice connectivity solutions are similar, key differences make each suitable for distinct use cases.

Download your free guide for a full comparison of Operator Connect, Direct Routing, and Calling Plans >

Microsoft Calling Plans are ideal for organizations without complex requirements that are looking for a voice service they can activate quickly and easily on a per-user basis. It is especially convenient for businesses that might value the regular monthly price for budgeting reasons, and might like that they can manage their whole communications stack through the 365 admin center.

Direct Routing sits at the other end of the scale, supporting organizations that need more flexibility and have more complex requirements. These could be anything from sophisticated configuration demands to the integration of other applications such as contact centers. There are also cost benefits available, particularly through providers offering more transparent “pay for what you use” pricing models. Any organization that is interested in consolidating their voice systems to a single network, achieving greater feature parity with their previous phone system, or adding regional offices in areas Microsoft doesn’t cover, has needed the flexibility of Direct Routing — which is why it is currently the most popular option.

Operator Connect comes some way towards filling the gap between the two, allowing organizations to add and manage basic voice services through Microsoft, choose their own carrier, and access some of the cost savings of Direct Routing. It is important to note, however, that anything beyond basic voice requirements will still need to be arranged directly with an external provider.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key information that might affect an organization’s decision if they were considering migrating their telephony to Microsoft Teams.



Microsoft Calling Plans

Operator Connect

Direct Routing

Voice Connectivity

Provided by Microsoft

Provided by one of the carriers available on Operator Connect through trusted cross- connects between their network and Microsoft

External carrier services are connected to Teams via a cloud-based or on-premises session border controller (SBC)

Voice service Management

Managed in the 365 admin center

Managed through the 365 admin center and the carrier’s portal

Number and services management through the carrier’s customer portal

(See Pure IP's Number Connect)


Only supports applications designed for Teams using 365 API integrations

Only supports applications designed for Teams using 365 API integrations

Voice application integrations are fully supported by most carriers


Bundled calling plans, minutes, and licensing on a per-user, per- month basis

Pay carrier for the minutes used + monthly rental charge

Pay carrier for the minutes used + monthly rental charge

Supporting hybrid environments

Not supported

Not supported

Supported; different platforms, contact centers, legacy systems, and analog devices can all be connected using the same voice network

Voice routing

Standard options only

Standard options only

Completely configurable

Global coverage

Limited to the 26 countries where Microsoft offers service as of late May

Limited to the countries the Operator Connect carriers can provide PSTN replacement services in

Get the coverage you need around the world via hosted, fully managed SBCs


Why Choose Operator Connect?

There are a number of reasons to select Operator Connect for voice calling in Teams. They include:

Data security & call quality
Operator Connect works through trusted cross-connects, which are direct private links between the Microsoft and carrier networks. That means one fewer hop on a public network that your calls need to go through to connect, resulting in better quality and security. That said, some Operator Connect carriers can also now use the same trusted cross-connects to provide the same benefits to their Direct Routing customers.

Request Operator Connect Calling Features Guide ButtonConvenience
Operator Connect can remove the complexity of having to manage numbers internally through Microsoft PowerShell, instead allowing users to make use of the Teams interface, which is much less technical. Activating and deactivating users in Operator Connect is much easier than in Direct Routing, where licenses and configuration might need to be managed separately.

Coverage and pricing
As noted earlier, your organization may need voice services in regions that Microsoft simply doesn’t include in their Calling Plans. Many organizations also find that they no longer need all the minutes provided in the bundles and would rather pay only for the minutes that they do use.

Users with different requirements
There are some limited circumstances when your organization might opt to mix and match Operator Connect with Direct Routing. 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.


In all, Operator Connect presents an interesting proposition to those organizations with relatively vanilla requirements and that can afford to sacrifice the flexibility of Direct Routing in favor of ease of use. It also opens up the cost reductions of Direct Routing to smaller businesses that might not necessarily have the resources, or desire, to manage multiple carriers, and would rather deal with as much as possible through Microsoft systems.


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Alessandra Skarlatos

Alessandra joined Pure IP as the Content and Communications Manager in early 2020, after 5 years within the cinema technology sector.

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