Using Microsoft Teams for Unified Communications – What Are Your Options???

By Mike Dolloff, Chief Revenue Officer

If you are feeling like you are hearing about Microsoft Teams more and more lately you are not alone. Even before COVID Teams was growing exponentially in terms of companies adopting the platform, boasting a meteoric rise to 44 million daily active users in March.

Microsoft announced that number has grown to 145 million active users as of April 2021. If we have learned anything from Microsoft it is that they will continue to grow and increase the adoption rate aggressively. Microsoft has been down this road many times before, and while integration seems like the easiest path their platforms don’t always play well with others.

While we are still a little ways from “plug and play” when it comes to Teams, Unified Communications, and the Contact Center, our team at Inflow loves finding ways for everyone to get along! Whether you are looking for solutions for On-Prem, Cloud, or the Contact Center, we found some workarounds, “worktogethers” and side door options for Microsoft Teams and your Team! This should help accelerate your adoption process and ease frustration for your customers both internal and external as well.

The Best Way To Use Microsoft Teams As Your Cloud PBX

You’ve determined Microsoft Teams provides the functionality you need for your communications system; how do you best use it?

When it comes to Office 365 licensing you need to add the Phone System license if on E1-E3 licensing. If you are on E5 licensing then nothing else is needed as the Phone System License is already included.

There are two solutions for you to choose your own adventure. You can choose the Microsoft Calling Plans, which is very expensive and costly to your organization. The other less costly option is to use Microsoft Direct Routing to BYOC (Bring Your Own Carrier).

We strongly recommend the Direct Routing option for the following reasons:

  • Save money
  • Have better control of your dialtone for improved support, porting, DR, etc.
  • This means you’ll want to work with one of the carriers with a Direct Routing certified SBC.
  • Below is a sample diagram of architecturally how this works:
    • nexVortex is one of the carriers we love for cost, customer service, and portal capabilities.

Like anything in the Unified Communications world there are some drawbacks for consideration:

  • Limited to Microsoft’s PBX capabilities
  • No contact center functionality
  • Limited to Microsoft’s integration options (not a fully open API)

Using Microsoft Teams and Your Premise Based PBX

You’re happy using Microsoft Teams for meetings, messaging and collaboration, but have an on-prem PBX you’d like to leverage along with it; how do you do that?

Good news when it comes to licensing for Office 365 there is no additional licensing needed. The solution is to use Microsoft Direct Routing to create a tie-line as a conduit between your PBX and Microsoft Teams. This is beneficial and allows for:

  • PBX and Microsoft Teams. This will allow:
    • Extension to extension dialing between Teams devices and your PBX
    • Avoid adding a Microsoft Calling Plan to have your PBX to provide dial tone to Teams meetings and Teams extensions (e.g. a Polycom endpoint registered to Teams)

This does have a few drawbacks for consideration:

  • No presence or directory syncing between your PBX and Teams
  • Two separate systems to manage
  • Two clients for your end-users
    • Teams for messaging and meetings
    • PBX client for call control, voicemail, etc.

Microsoft Teams + Cloud PBX

You’d like your end-users to have Microsoft Teams as their singular communications client, but aren’t satisfied with the PBX capabilities of Teams; what do you do?

When it comes to Office 365 Licensing nothing else is needed. The solution is to have the Teams client register as a SIP endpoint to a supported UCaaS platform, sidenote there are a few on-prem PBX systems that allow for this as well. Today this is largely facilitated through an OEM’d middleware called Call2Teams. Call2Teams allows the Teams client to act as a softphone registered to a compatible UCaaS provider like RingCentral or 8×8.

  • This gives your end-user the ability to place and receive calls in the Teams client exclusively.
  • The dial tone and overall PBX capabilities are being provided by your UCaaS solution.

Once again this is not without drawbacks such as:

  • Two separate systems to manage
  • Would still need a Microsoft Calling Plan for a dial-in number for your Teams meetings
  • Limited to the Call2Teams capabilities

Microsoft Teams + Contact Center

You’ve determined Microsoft Teams provides the functionality you need for your communications system, but you have Contact Center needs; how do you address those?

For the Unified Communications side of things refer to our first scenario above. For the Contact Center part of the equation, there are two considerations:

  • Use your Direct Routing SIP provider for Teams AND your contact center solution. Pick a contact center solution that allows you to BYOC and works nicely with your selected SIP provider. This will simplify the number of vendors, give you the increased control and improved support, and allow you to partake in some DR/BCP capabilities as your SIP provider could use Teams as a failover destination in case your contact center solution was experiencing issues.
  • Have your contact center solution integrated with Teams. There is a growing number of contact center providers that can do some level of user integration with Teams. Examples include:
    • Having presence sync between Teams and the contact center solution (e.g. an agent changing his Teams status to ‘in a meeting’ would block contact center calls from being presented to that agent)
    • Utilizing the Teams client as an agent’s audio source for receiving and placing calls in the contact center. This helps create the feeling of a ‘single system’ so an agent can transfer a call to a non-contact center user and vice-versa.

Since you are well aware by now of the theme by now you know that every action has an equal reaction (drawback):

  • Limited to Microsoft’s PBX capabilities
  • Limited to Microsoft’s integration options (not a fully open API)