Microsoft Teams as a phone system

Cloud based phone systems are the future of voice, and they’re constantly evolving. Microsoft Teams is taking over as Microsoft’s primary voice option. Microsoft announced Skype for Business Online (SFB online) will be completely discontinued on July 31, 2021. That’s less than 12 months away! Still using SFB online for collaboration or as your phone system? You need to start planning your move to Teams very soon. Here’s what you need to know about SFB online being phased out and using cloud-based Microsoft Teams as a phone system.

What happens when SFB Online is discontinued? 

SIP based phones like the Polycom VVX or Yealink T4 series integrated with Teams will stop working when SFB online is fully deprecated. The SIP based phones use an SFB gateway in the cloud to connect to Teams, which will go away when SFB does. Going forward, Teams will only support phones running the Teams app, like the Yealink T55A, or Poly CCX 400.

What about Skype for Business on-premise?

A lot has happened with Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business (SFB) since my first post (Skype for Business to Morph into Teams?) on the subject back in January of 2018 and another blog (It’s Time to Move from Skype for Business to Microsoft Teams) from 2019. Microsoft released SFB Server 2019 as an on-premise solution, indicating it would be the last release of SFB for on-premise. Exchange 2019 no longer supports the voicemail components of SFB Server. If you’re running SFB Server 2019 (or older) on-premise and want to migrate to Exchange 2019, you’ll need to migrate the voicemail capabilities to Cloud Voicemail (more on that later).

Clearly, Microsoft’s strategy is to move these services to the cloud. It would not be a surprise to see on-premise Exchange deprecated in the not too distant future.

Can you use Microsoft Teams as a phone system?

I won’t go into all of the voice features within Teams here since this would become a novel instead of a blog. Suffice it to say that Teams can meet the phone requirements of virtually any company, especially with the third-party add-ons, like the contact center solutions listed  here. Couple Teams’ phone system capabilities with its collaboration features and you have an extremely powerful communications and collaboration solution. That’s another blog in itself.

Teams has improved tremendously as a phone system over the past few years. ADNET has been using Microsoft voice solutions since Office Communications Server 2007, as well as deploying Microsoft voice solutions to our clients. We were an early adopter of Teams voice, migrating to a Lync/Teams hybrid solution, then porting our numbers to Microsoft and eventually retiring our on-premise Lync servers. I’ll be honest, we went through some pain and learned a lot along the way. In 2020, though, I firmly believe that Teams is a fully functional and stable phone system.

Teams phone features

Teams uses the same Cloud Voicemail I mentioned earlier. Fully functional auto attendant capabilities allow transfers to users, groups, voicemail and even outside numbers. A recently added feature allows for outside number transfer (a bit of a pet peeve of mine initially). User voicemail is also feature rich with voicemail to email with transcription and separate out of office greetings that change with your out of office settings in Outlook.

Call queues can ring O365 groups or individual users and can be set to only ring users who show as available in Teams. Unanswered calls in a queue can be sent to a voicemail box that is attached to an O365 group for members of that group to retrieve the voicemails.

All of the voicemail, auto attendant, call queue and voicemail features come at no additional charge as long as you have at least one user with a Phone System license (more on licensing below).

Teams licensing – what does Teams really cost?

The cost of Teams can be a no-brainer for smaller companies that already migrated email and other services to O365. Compared to current on-premise voice services costs, add-on licenses are very cost-effective. With the wide range of voice devices available, especially inexpensive headsets, the buy-in can be very low. Ongoing monthly costs are also typically less than a traditional system or other cloud solution.

For larger companies, monthly calling plan licenses can add up quickly when deployed to hundreds of users. The direct routing solution allows for bring-your-own-telephone network connectivity either from on-premise or cloud SIP providers. Calling plan minutes are pooled among all users on the same plan with Teams licenses. For example, say you have 10 users with a Domestic Calling plan (each license gets 3,000 minutes). There’s a pool of 30,000 minutes that can be consumed by the 10 users before overage charges are incurred.

Call queues with phone numbers, general voicemail boxes and common area phones previously required additional O365 user licenses. Using the Direct Routing feature, an on-premise Session Border Controller can be registered directly with Teams. This controller supports things like on premise telephone network connectivity, analog devices and overhead paging.

The variety of add-on licenses ranges from as low as $4 to up to $25. Pricing is a per user, monthly recurring model for commercial companies. Non-profit and Education organizations can see significantly lower costs. Depending on the needs of your organization and the industry you’re in, your licensing needs and costs will be different.

The licenses offer different benefits, adding things like outbound calling, additional phone minutes, and advanced voicemail features. We’re happy to have a discussion and help you choose the option that’s best for your business. 

Making the move to Microsoft Teams as a Phone System

If not planned properly, changing phone systems can be disruptive to an organization and its employees. However, with careful planning and training, moving to Microsoft Teams as a phone system can be done with minimal disruption. Users will embrace the many collaboration and communication benefits that Teams provides.

ADNET is here to help in any capacity, from initial planning and guidance to a fully managed Teams deployment including admin and end-user training. Interested in learning more or seeing how your organization could leverage Teams? Reach out to us.