Introducing Operator Connect and more Teams Calling updates

Voices matter – and we think that Microsoft Teams Calling is a powerful way to use those voices to strengthen connections and build new ones. The hallway chats and informal customer conversations that we used to rely upon now need to happen digitally, reinforcing the need for a modern and seamless calling solution. In fact, we recently announced that Teams users placed over 650 million calls in October, up 11 fold from just a few months earlier in March 2020.

 

We are committed to building a modern calling solution that is simple and quick to deploy – for example with innovations like Operator Connect, which we are excited to introduce today. The updates shared here represent just some of our on-going efforts, and you can watch the Microsoft Teams Calling session at Ignite to hear more. We’ll continue to share further details here, so be sure to check back often.

 

Simple and seamless options to add PSTN calling to Teams

 

Operator Connect

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Our commitment to creating a best-in-class and modern calling experience begins with the deployment of Teams Calling, including if you want to enable calling with your own operator, as many organizations do. To that end, we are very excited to announce Operator Connect, a new operator-managed service for bringing PSTN calling to Teams. Operator Connect makes it simple to bring your operator to Teams if they are participating in the program, and it unlocks several important benefits:

  • Leverage existing operator contracts: Keep your preferred operator and contracts, while enabling a modern calling experience in Teams
  • Simple and quick to deploy: It can take just minutes to connect to your operator and assign phone numbers to users – all from the Teams Admin Center. You do not need to be an expert in voice to deploy calling to Teams
  • Operator-managed infrastructure: PSTN calling services and Session Border Controllers (SBCs) are managed by operators, saving on hardware purchase and management
  • Enhanced support and reliability: Operators provide tech support and shared service level agreements to improve support service, while direct peering powered by Azure creates a 1:1 network connection for enhanced reliability

When Operator Connect launches, Admins will be able to open the “Operators” tab in the Teams Admin Center, where qualified operators will be listed. Admins can then select their preferred operator and connect calling services, at which point they can acquire phone numbers from these operators and assign them to their users.

 

Operator Connect will enter public preview next quarter with the initial wave of partners which includes BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Nuwave, Orange Business Services, Pure IP, Rogers, Swisscom, TATA, Telenor, and Verizon. We have been working in close partnership with these operators to create a seamlessly integrated experience, and we will add additional partners to the Operator Connect program. We will continue to share more details as Operator Connect approaches general availability, so please check back regularly!

 

Microsoft Teams Calling Plans market expansion

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Microsoft Teams Calling Plans provide a quick and simple way to deploy calling in Microsoft Teams with no on-premises equipment. With Microsoft Teams Calling Plans, you can procure and assign phone numbers to users right from the Teams Admin Center in a matter of minutes.

 

To enable more Teams users to take advantage of Microsoft Teams Calling Plans, we are expanding availability to 8 new markets beginning in April and completing by the end of June. The new markets are New Zealand, Singapore, Romania, Czech Republic, Hungary, Finland, Norway, and Slovakia, bringing Microsoft Teams Calling Plans to 26 markets across the globe.

 

Direct Routing updates
As more and more of our customers are turning to Teams for their calling solution, their use of Direct Routing has expanded significantly – over just the past year, Direct Routing call minutes have grown 8-fold, and more than four times as many organizations are using Direct Routing to enable PSTN calling in Teams.

 

To provide organizations with choice and flexibility for their Direct Routing deployments, we are continuing to add to the list of Session Border Controllers (SBC) certified for Direct Routing, with 6 new SBCs completing certification in just the past 3 months. Additionally, to add resiliency to the most critical locations, Survivable Branch Appliance is now generally available, enabling PSTN calling in the event an outage does not allow the Teams client to directly connect to our services.

 

Operator Connect Conferencing

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Furthermore, to enable more options for conferencing, we are announcing Operator Connect Conferencing, a new service that uses the same administrator interface as Operator Connect and allows you to add operator dial-in numbers to a Microsoft Audio Conferencing bridge.

 

Operator Connect Conferencing is an operator-managed service that provides the following benefits:

  • Bring your own operator for conferencing, for operators participating in the program: Maintain your preferred operator contracts as you migrate existing PSTN infrastructure to the cloud.
  • Variety of operators available at your fingertips: Diversify your PSTN infrastructure to include additional qualified operators.
  • Expanded geographic dial-in coverage: Additional dial-in locations available to support your multi-national needs.
  • Enhanced support and reliability: The tight partnership with operators provides enhanced technical support and service level agreements to address reliability.

Operator Connect Conferencing will enter private preview next quarter with the initial wave of qualified partners, which includes BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services, and Telenor. We have been working in close partnership with these telecom operators to create a seamlessly integrated experience and we will add more qualified operators over time. We will continue to share more details as Operator Connect Conferencing approaches general availability, so please check back regularly!

 

Innovative value for broad & sophisticated calling scenarios

Voice-enabled channels

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Many teams tackle calling as part of their workflows, and often collaboration can yield better and faster results. Voice-enabled channels allow you to turn any Teams channel into a team-based call queue, allowing for collaboration and information sharing before, during, and after the call. This can help departments like Human Resources or IT solve important issues as a team – for example addressing new hire questions as they come in or responding to tech support requests even more quickly. By the end of March, Teams Admins will have the option to create new voice-enabled channels.

Enhanced Calls app experience
Teams is the hub for chat, collaboration, meetings, apps, and workflows, and the enhanced Calls app brings the most important calling elements – the dial pad, call history, voicemail, contacts, and settings – into a single location, making it easier to stay connected in the flow of your work. Teams users will see this new experience in their Calls app starting in March.

 

Certified Contact Center and Compliance Recording solutions
Teams is an extensible platform, and that applies to Teams Calling as well. The Teams Contact Center certification program and Compliance Recording certification program can help customers feel confident that their preferred contact center and compliance recording solutions integrate seamlessly and reliably with Teams. We are pleased to share that Anywhere365, ComputerTalk , 8×8, and Enghouse Interactive have achieved contact center certification for their solutions. Additionally, NICE, AudioCodes, Dubber, ASC, Numonix and Verint have achieved compliance recording certification for their solutions.

 

Endpoint transfer
Teams makes it easy to place and receive calls from several different endpoints, including desktop and mobile devices, but sometimes you need to move locations or devices to finish your call. The new endpoint transfer capability will allow you to seamlessly move your calls between different devices, such as from your laptop to mobile phone, without any interruption in call service or quality. Endpoint transfer will be available early next quarter.

 

Low-data mode
Whether you want to preserve data or are just in a location with a poor or limited network connection, sometimes it’s helpful to limit the amount of data you’re using during a meeting or call that uses video. A new low data mode is now available, allowing users to cap the amount of data that will be used during Teams meeting or video calls, as well as establish different settings based on network availability so that the setting can be turned on always, or only while on cellular networks.

 

Bandwidth control
Many organizations have limited bandwidth capacity at locations on their network and require the ability to restrict Teams bandwidth consumption at those locations. The new bandwidth control feature will permit Teams Admins to proactively establish network bandwidth consumption for Teams clients at specific network locations – for example, a low bandwidth control limit for remote locations and higher limits for other sites. Bandwidth control capabilities will be available early next quarter.

 

Flexible and powerful calling endpoints

SIP Gateway
For supported SIP phone models, we are excited to introduce the preview of our SIP Gateway solution, which will enable core Teams calling functionality on legacy phones from Cisco, Poly, Yealink and AudioCodes. Capabilities may include inbound & outbound calls, call transfer, dial in/out to meetings, device-based do not disturb and voicemail indicators on devices similar to those below.

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New calling form factors

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Two new phones, the Yealink MP52 and AudioCodes C435, will be generally available by early April. These new form factors provide a simplified Teams phone experience with core calling functionality, at a more affordable price point. These offerings make for excellent desk phones or common area phones.

 

Remote deployment for common area phones
Remote deployment is now available for common area phones. Within the Teams Admin Center, IT Admins can add a phone into the device inventory using a device tag-MAC Address, which will generate a verification code that an in-room technician can input on the device. Then the phone will show the tenant ID and bring up a sign-in screen, which the same remote admin can unlock by selecting the device, applying a device code, and completing sign-in.

 

Teams display enhancements
There are exciting new enhancements to the Teams display experience on the Lenovo ThinkSmart View. Teams display allows users to stay in the flow of work with convenient access to collaboration updates and short cuts to their meetings and calls. We have added background replacement and live reactions to meetings as well as the ability to send quick responses and reactions to chats from the ambient screen.

 

Most exciting are our new Bing and Cortana integrations which allow users to fetch useful information from the internet that can help them stay prepared for their meetings and calls. Use Bing to ask questions like:

  • “What time is it in New York?”
  • “What is the weather in Seattle?”
  • “How many pesos are in a dollar?”

To learn more about our devices, visit aka.ms/TeamsDevices.

 

Device-as-a-Service expansion
We are excited to announce an expansion of our monthly financing plans offered through our 3rd party fulfillment partners into new geographies – specifically Ireland, UK, Canada, and Australia by the end of March for qualifying shopping cart orders.

 

Try Teams Calling for free and get support with your deployment
With all these capabilities launching, it’s important to keep in mind that Teams Calling can be rolled out in weeks – not months or years – as Lumen (formerly CenturyLink) showed by rolling out Calling globally to over 40,000 users in 4 weeks.

 

To learn more and get started, check out the links below for additional information and guidance:

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