Microsoft Mechanics just released a video about how to set up Microsoft Teams Phones which as always, is a good high level technical overview of something Microsoft is doing. Here’s the video:
Personally, I’ve been living with using Microsoft Teams as the phone system for PSTN calls for about 6 months now, after coming from Skype for Business On-premises. There are some aspects that do ‘just work’, but there’s also limitations to be aware of. For reference, I’m using it via Telstra’s TCO365 service, which may give a bit of a different experience to others not using it this way. For example, I can’t get PSTN call logs via Teams itself:
I don’t have to worry about any gateways
With Skype for Business On-Premises, we had multiple gateways to convert the SIP calls into SfB. It’s now all happening in the cloud, I just have a range of numbers provided by the telco that turn up in Teams and can allocate them, along with the user requiring the right Micrsoft license, and the TCO365 license. There’s no specialist knowledge required to maintain any gateways, and reduces complexity of the environment. The gateways were mostly set and forget – but still needed work do to manual updates. If one had a fault, it’d be a pain to resolve.
Microsoft Teams Client
This will also appear as a con later, but everyone already uses the Microsoft Teams client for meetings – so the learning curve isn’t as bad compared to using another platform. It very much leads into the notion that beyond email, Teams is trying to be the single pain of glass for immediate interactions and communications. The client receives constant updates which can bring quality of life improvements.
Teams Admin Portal
The admin portal is generally a lot nicer to use than the old Skype for Business portal, which ran on Silverlight. It is constantly changing and being updated, and has grown in stability since I started using it 6 months ago. There’s a lot more that can be done in there around usage and reporting, and client health. There’s still plenty of improvements that can be made, but for the most part it does work.
Not having to patch Skype for Business servers is great – a standard benefit of on-premises vs SaaS. The less things we have to manage for no real benefit, the better. When those updates come through, they’re regular, and bring new options to the platform. The client updates of course bring many more features too – but be weary of release dates. When something gets released in June 2021, it probably means that Microsoft are starting to roll it out then, and may take a few months to get to your tenant.
Calling Queues and Auto Attendants
The range of options around these is a lot greater in Teams – you can have a lot of scenarios covered and more complicated rulesets on how to handle calls. Members of a calling queue can also optionally have the toggle in their client if they want to be a part of it or not, which is handy to give end users the ability to jump in and out.
Microsoft Teams Client
A double edged sword – it is nowhere near as slick and well designed as Skype for Business was for purely making phone calls. The interface is huge, becuase it’s designed to do so much; but the phone aspect still feels like an afterthought that constantly changes. Doing something simple like clicking in the field to dial a number, typing it and pressing enter does not call the number. You have to press enter twice – but not straight away, that won’t work, you have to wait for it to pop up a dialog showing it’s got the number ready to dial, then press enter again. Or, you can then go to the mouse and click call, which to me isn’t as good since I just used the keyboard to type a number in. Clicking all the digits of a phone number isn’t fun.
The Teams client is still memory hungry, has a lot of weird bugs (at one stage, the Calls icon just wouldn’t show which makes it very hard to make calls!). A whole re-write of the Teams client will come out at some stage, so hopefully that runs a lot better.
This is another aspect that feels like it doesn’t get enough attention and effort. The Teams app that runs on Android will power any desk phone, and it’s not instantly quick to respond. It’s good enough, but not great. Many phones still don’t support being automatically updated via Teams, but will support a manual update. Part of the desk phone experience comes down to which third party vendor you pick, but features like being able to swap a PSTN call between desk phone and PC are still coming – these should have been there from day 1.
On Skype for Business, there was a great feature that would redirect calls of unallocated numbers in number ranges to another number – so if someone left, their calls would go to reception. This isn’t available in Teams at all, if you want to recreate the feature, you’ll have to pay license and phone company fees for every single number you’d like to do this to. A real pain.
Calling Queues and Auto Attendants
Although another positive, the internal Teams support for this is poor. If you try to look up the name of a calling queue in Teams, it won’t come up. So, if you create a Helpdesk group and expect internal staff to be able to type ‘Helpdesk’ in to find and call them, you can’t. I’m really disappointed on this one. The workaround is to fully license an account called Helpdesk, and set that to divert all it’s calls to the calling queue number.
There’s a bunch more points to consider, if you want to see a comparison on features for Skype for Business vs Teams in it’s multiple iterations of phone support (Teams Calling Plan, Teams Direct Routing, Teams Operator Connect) check out Luca Vitali’s constantly updated feature comparison table
I am looking forward to seeing how Teams Phones progresses and becomes a stronger product; in it’s current state be aware of the existing limitations and if it meets your requirements. It’s also worth seeing what’s on the roadmap for Teams and Phones to know what’s coming.