When Microsoft Teams launched in 2017, it was predominantly a chat platform with meetings capabilities.
Thought of as Microsoft’s Slack competitor at the time, Teams is now a platform for all your collaboration needs. And you can now include calling, Call Center, and even Contact Center via a certified third party. Your entire communications stack can be Microsoft Teams. Which is what a lot of businesses are striving for.
But it’s not quite as simple as just turning on Teams and having a unified communications suite. To genuinely unify everything, there is a little bit of work to do.
You’ve got the choice between Teams Calling Plans, Direct Routing, and Operator Connect.
Microsoft Teams Calling is the umbrella term used for any of the potential voice/phone options available for Teams.
It is often confused with Microsoft Teams Calling Plan..
Ultimately, there are a number of ways to enable calling in Microsoft Teams. It just so happens that Microsoft Teams Calling Plans are one of those options.
In these first sections, let’s address some of the most frequently asked questions with regards to making and receiving external calls in Microsoft Teams.
Later in this guide, we go into detail about the three options for voice/phone in Microsoft Teams.
Read more: Microsoft Teams for voice calling: Your FAQs answered
What licenses do I need for Teams calling?
To enable calling in Teams, you must subscribe to one of the Teams Phone licenses:
Teams Phone Standard (which is included in E5)
Enables basic control and PBX features like:
Teams Phone with Calling Plan bundle
All the above plus a Microsoft domestic Calling Plan.
You can also request Teams Phone gets added to your current Microsoft 365 E1 or E3 plan. Microsoft will provide a custom quote on these occasions.
The Teams Phone license gives you all the PBX functionality. But you then need to choose a PSTN connectivity option, either Calling Plans from Microsoft or Direct Routing or Operator Connect.
See section 3 for more on how to decide which is best for your business.
Calling in Teams works in different ways depending on your deployment model.
In the most basic scenario, you can use Microsoft Teams without a Teams Phone license to make and receive voice and video calls over an internet connection.
This is the simplest option to enable basic phone calling in Teams as you buy your phone numbers and minutes from Microsoft directly. It is ideal for organizations without complex requirements that are looking for a voice service they can activate quickly and easily. Your contract for calling is with Microsoft in this case as they are the PSTN carrier.
By adding a Microsoft Calling Plan, you are adding a bundle of minutes per user. So, unless you have high usage, you are unlikely to need to pay per minute for calls.
Microsoft Teams Calling Plans pricing
You can buy licences, numbers, and minutes on a per user per month basis and packaged in bundles. These also apply on a per country basis.
The Microsoft Teams Phone with Calling Plan license is £11.30 or $15 per user per month. This includes 3,000 domestic minutes. US and Canada licensing also includes 3,000 domestic minutes.
Countries outside of these three options only include 1,200 domestic minutes.
You can also buy pay-as-go packages unless you’re in the US. These are not available in the US due to tax reasons.
For international coverage, a superior option is to take advantage of Direct Routing or Operator Connect. More on these later.
Read more: Understanding Microsoft Teams Pay As You Go Calling Plans
Microsoft 365 Business Voice vs Teams Phone
In March 2022, Microsoft 365 Business Voice was made end of life. It was Microsoft's voice option for small and medium businesses.
Instead, Teams Phone Standard is the entry-level license for those looking to start using basic cloud PBX functionality in Teams.
If, however, your requirements aren’t as basic as catered for in Microsoft Calling Plans, you might want to consider Direct Routing or Operator Connect.
The alternatives to Microsoft Calling Plans are:
Option 1 – Direct Routing
Think of Direct Routing as “Bring Your Own SBC”. A Session Border Controller (SBC) is the gateway that connects your Teams users to your telephony carrier.
Or think of providers like Pure IP providing a Direct Routing as a Service option, where you don’t need any hardware. If you don’t have the in-house resource, Pure IP can provide a managed service option.
Direct Routing allows organizations to add PSTN calling to Microsoft Teams with their preferred telephony operator.
When doing so, users can make and receive external phone calls using Teams. The front-end interface remains Teams. The back-end calls are powered by your operator.
You can achieve this through deploying a Microsoft-approved Session Border Controller (SBC). This then connects your SIP trunk and your carrier’s network to Microsoft’s Phone System and your Teams tenant.
Read more: Can you mix Operator Connect with Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams?
How to find the right Direct Routing partner
Selecting the right Direct Routing partner depends on your specific requirements and priorities.
Here are a few factors you should consider including in your selection criteria:
Microsoft certifies SBC providers and Direct Routing operators on a regular basis. Pure IP is proud to offer SeRVE, a full-service Direct Routing as-a-Service solution.
Read more: Pure IP SeRVE for Microsoft Teams Direct Routing
Option 2 – Operator Connect
Operator Connect is the third option in Microsoft’s calling portfolio for you to migrate your existing telephony to Teams.
You can make external calls from within your Teams tenant using a telecoms operator. All the connectivity and infrastructure is managed by that provider as a cloud service to you.
Read more: How to use Operator Connect for Microsoft Teams step-by-step
Announced in March 2021, Microsoft’s aim for Operator Connect is to provide a meet-in-the-middle option for customers who want to work with their preferred operator, but don’t have the complex requirements where Direct Routing is the best solution.
As Pure IP CEO, Gary Forrest, says in his article in NoJitter, “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.”
Read more: What is the difference between Calling Plans, Direct Routing, and Operator Connect?
A common point that often comes up when moving to Microsoft Teams Calling is how to connect analog devices. These include specialist devices like door access systems, gates, overhead paging or elevator phones, or regular phones in locations where there is already an analog cable connection and it is not possible to run cabling for an IP phone.
Many organizations still have analog devices in their estate, but being partially migrated to the cloud with Teams Phone but still needing to run the PBX for just analog extensions impacts the ROI of Teams Phone and increases the ongoing operational overhead.
So how do you connect analog devices with Microsoft Teams?
In some scenarios a locally Powered Wireless IP Phone may be a solution, there are a number of Teams phones that support Wi-Fi for network connectivity, but they will need local power. DECT Phones are also another wireless option to reach specific locations.
Alternatively, the more common approach is to utilize either a gateway with analog ports or our recommended option of an analog telephony adapter (ATA) to connect the required analog device.
Find out more about our SIP Connect solution here.
Read more: Connecting analog devices to Microsoft Teams: Understand the options
Once you’ve sorted your user calling, your Contact Center is often the next port of call. Or, likely, you’re juggling both projects at the same time.
Here, you’ve got the decision of Call Center vs Contact Center. Ultimately, do you need advanced voice functionality to create an informal Call Center or do you need a formal Contact Center model?
Read more: Need to add your PBX to your Contact Center? Now you can!
Option 1. Native Microsoft Teams Call Center
With the Teams Phone Standard license, you enable call queuing and auto attendants. You can use these basic features to create your own inbound, informal call center setup.
Auto attendants can present callers with a numeric menu or voice menu. For example, press option 1 for sales or option 2 for support. Likewise, callers can say the reason for their calls.
In the Teams Admin Center, you have access to configure things like business hours, personalized greetings, and call flows.
With call queues, you place callers in relevant queues based on your distribution plans. Inside these queues, Teams picks up agents’ presence to ensure calls don’t get routed to busy agents.
These voice options are the only options available Teams native call center setup. There are no omnichannel capabilities like web chat, email, or social media.
This is a neat, first-step solution, with basic call reports available via PowerBI.
If you need further channels or more advanced call center features, a third-party Microsoft-certified contact center provider is a better option.
Option 2. Microsoft Teams certified third-party Contact Center vendors
When you need features like real-time reporting, wallboards, skills-based routing, or any other advanced Call Center features, you’re looking at third-party solutions to do the job.
Likewise, if your requirement is CRM integration, outbound calling campaigns, or PCI compliance, the native Teams Call Center setup doesn’t support this.
Microsoft recognizes this too. Hence, the Contact Center certification.
In fact, Microsoft says, “For some organizations, Microsoft Teams’ cloud voice capabilities, including auto attendant and call queues, meet their needs. For organizations that want solutions with business tools and workflows to drive the customer journey, Contact Center integration for Microsoft Teams allows Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution providers to integrate their solutions into Teams.”
You can choose any Contact Center to run over the top of Teams as your PBX.
But using a Teams-certified Contact Center means several things:
Check out how Anywhere365 uses the Teams interface for calls, customer details, and even Twitter interactions in the screenshot below.
When you’ve made your choice of Call Center vs Contact Center, it’s a matter of which vendor to select.
As of February 2023, there are 16 Microsoft Teams-certified Contact Center vendors:
And a further 18 undergoing certification. Keep up to date with certified vendors here.
How to get started with Teams Calling and Contact Center
For some, the out of the box options Microsoft provides (Calling Plans and native Call Center) are enough. This self-service option presents a great option for small businesses or teams with a small number of Call Center staff.
If you need a more complex setup, like Operator Connect, Direct Routing, or even connecting your existing PBX to a Cloud Contact Center, Pure IP provides a variety of solutions tailored to your bespoke requirements.
For help with your Teams calling setup, book a call with our Teams experts.