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Microsoft Teams Phone System, Direct Routing, and SBCs, a journey. (pt.1)

Introduction

If you are frustrated by how difficult it is to associate external phone numbers and SIP services (Session Initiation Protocol, the defacto signaling protocol for VoIP) to Teams users, this may be of interest to you. In this article, I will break down my journey from initial research of Microsoft’s inbuilt calling features to the implementation of an external Direct Routing solution using primarily open-source resources. If you are a Microsoft Teams direct routing and SBC (Session Border Controller) aficionado, you might decide to skip this one.

We understand that Microsoft Teams is intrinsically connected to Azure AD (Active Directory) and Microsoft 365, and therefore requires licensing and some training to manage. It can be a complicated beast. That being said, adding phone numbers and calling would seem to be something that Microsoft would have enabled by default? I mean, why would anyone want their customers to jump through hoops to get a phone number for their Teams account? A loaded question to be sure, let’s unpack it.

Getting Started

Recently I have been helping some of my friends, colleagues, and even my son’s teachers get more familiar with Microsoft Teams. I am quite impressed with how far this product has come in recent years. The old Skype For Business app was never my thing, it just felt clunky, but this new Teams app, it’s pretty good! 

The one question I am hearing a lot is, “How can I get a phone number from my existing phone system into Teams?”. It’s been a while since I have looked at this but I was hoping Microsoft had a simple way of enabling basic calling from an external SIP source. I then had a flashback going back several years, I remembered that the process for adding SIP trunks to Skype for Business was arcane and wrought with utter frustration. I was hoping that had improved. Spoiler alert: it has improved, but not by a large margin, especially if you are moving from one Microsoft platform (eg. Skye for Business On-line, Or SfB On-premises) to Teams.

Setting up Microsoft Business Voice and Phone System in Teams

After a bit of research, and familiarizing myself with Azure AD, 365, licensing mechanisms (and Power Shell) and Teams, a few things became clear;

1) Managing policies & licensing is done via Azure Active Directory, the 365 admin center, Power Shell, and Teams Admin.

2) Teams user management is done primarily in Teams admin

3) Calling plans in Teams are fine but not what I would describe as competitively priced.

4) Enabling external phone services is not trivial. 

To expand on that last point, things get much more complicated when you are migrating from existing Lync, Exchange, or Skype for Business Online or on-premises deployments. Microsoft has plenty of information on the topic on their website, so I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details but suffice it to say, you really need a certified Microsoft shop to help you with this.

Enabling Phone System in Teams

To enable calling using Microsoft’s own phone services, we needed the Business Voice License and a Calling Plan license for each user. These are extra costs per subscriber over and above the other 365 fees your organization would need. Then, you can add numbers via the Teams admin console, but ensure you have the correct licensing and policies in 365 admin or you will not see anything. As you can see, there were none available… in the entire United States…

Most shops that are deploying Teams calling have an in-house admin that will know their way around the licensing. For this demo I am using a trial version of Microsoft Office 365 — Enterprise 5/E5, (you can get a trial here) so I can feel the pain from ground zero. 

After a bit more digging, I found out I had not attributed the proper license, of course. Once I had the configuration in proper order, I then saw locations and numbers. I added some numbers to the account and then provisioned them to the users. After a few calls, I was satisfied it was working as per expectations. The admin could pick some number, associate them with users and the number would propagate to the end-user. 

A friend of mine was keen on using Teams to make calls, as his team was using it daily for internal communications. What he wasn’t keen on was paying roughly $22/user (USD)+ extra monthly 365 licensing costs per user. Which is what spurred on this whole journey. Now that I knew what was possible and what it costed, I shifted gears to research any potential support for SIP trunking in Teams, something Microsoft calls Direct Routing.

More on “Microsoft Teams Phone System, Direct Routing, and SBCs, a journey” in Part 2, to be published next Monday!


I hope you found this article interesting.

If you have any questions or comments or want your own SBC for Direct Routing, get in touch via erik@snapsonic.com or give us a call 1.877.897.1952

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The lines between UCaaS, CPaaS and Cloud Communications are blurry


The various teams in your organization have similar and at the same time very different needs. Sales teams generally request integration with Salesforce and revenue operations tooling. Marketing, integration into toolsets like Hubspot and Marketo. Product teams need a feedback loop that will provide insights into usability and trends for customer use cases identifying gaps and popular (and unpopular) features. Customer Support needs integration into ticketing and help systems. Customer Success needs tight integration with success platforms tied to customer experiences and outcomes. All of these teams need reporting that delivers clarity on progress with established KPI/OKR targets in mind.

The implication here is that managing all of these well is a tall order for any growing business, but your communication strategy can’t take a back seat, it needs to be a first-class citizen. After all, it’s the first thing your customers will interact with to communicate with you!

Your cloud communications strategy will tie into all of your organizational disciplines, and there needs to be enough flexibility for your teams to grow. So how will you decide which providers or platforms suit your company’s needs best?

One would think it could be relatively simple. This process might start with one question; “Do you need deep feature integration and do you have developers in your command?” If the answer is no, your decision just became a whole lot simpler, meaning you should look at a turn-key offering. In reality, it’s not that simple. The lines between UCaaS, CPaaS, and Cloud Communications are becoming blurred.

Cloud Communications Platforms or CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) providers enable APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces for developers. Simply put, APIs equate to a toolset for developers that can be used to integrate features and functionality into web and mobile applications. In the comms space, this might be represented as SMS, Voice, Video, AI, Data Analytics, Fax (yes, fax still exists), etc. Some of these platforms also have professional services teams that can be retained for development projects. For some larger customers, platforms offer the best solution as it generally offers more flexibility and allows for a more tailored approach. The approach also requires more planning and coordination as services /features need to be built before they can be used. At the very least, a good customer success group is likely a requirement.

UCaaS / Cloud Communications Service Providers provide various services that are ready to consume by their business customers, there is no development required. Not to say that these companies do not offer APIs as well, many do, but it’s not what drives their business.

These services are generally less flexible. The providers that do provide APIs generally limit it to the features available in the existing offering. These cloud offerings generally take the place of several disparate systems, some of which used to be maintained onsite at the customer location(s). These services are the product of constant innovation in business phone systems. Early in the 21st century, we had analog phone systems that were circuit-switched and were bound by wires. Those systems either died or evolved into VoIP systems that were packets switched with layers of translation for interoperability with the systems of old. Now we have multi-modal and feature-rich cloud services that encapsulate Voice (desk phone, mobile, desktop), Video (single, multiparty, mobile and desktop), Text (ott + translation for SMS) and some form of Artificial Intelligence offering.

Even with all of these features, many larger enterprise companies require white-glove treatment with well-managed onboarding as their workflows and use cases can be complex. This means a CPaaS offering might be more applicable for their use cases, as long as the features are there to support all their use cases.

SMB (Small Medium Business) to SME (Small Medium Enterprise) seem to gravitate towards readymade offerings enabled by cloud communications service providers.

There are many great vendors to choose from on both sides of the fence and many times they are used in combination to serve customer’s needs.

As a demonstration, we can take a look at any larger enterprise customer that might have a need for a business communications system. It must accommodate administrative, sales, support, and customer success. They all will likely need Voice, Video, and Chat supplemented by some smart AI to help them reduce manual laborious tasks or augmenting their workflow. Many organizations have made a considerable investment into their customer workflow, including call center systems and networks and with that in mind, the customer is not interested in hearing about ripping and replacing equipment and networks. In this scenario, you might select a CPaaS for the call center component and potentially leverage a Cloud UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) offering for the business comms requirements.

Regardless of your needs, now could be a good time to be considering improving efficiency, optimizing and upgrading systems, and adding some feature enhancements. There are plenty of options and providers to choose from, all of which are competing fiercely for your business.


What tools do you use today and how are they working for you? How often do you use AI or video/web conferencing as part of your daily routine? If you prefer sharing your comments or questions privately, feel free to shoot me a text message or call anytime: (877) 897–1952 (Note: All calls will be recorded).

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