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Telephony in Microsoft Teams: Operator Connect vs. Direct Routing

Operator Connect or Direct Routing?

With more than 250 million MAU (monthly active users) Microsoft Teams is enabling communication and collaboration in ways that could never have been possible just a few years ago. However, while making telephone calls within your company is straightforward enough, external calls can be more of a challenge. And particularly for large enterprises needing bespoke solutions. If you’re looking to bring telephony to Microsoft Teams, then the arrival of Operator Connect is very exciting news. More so if your organization operates in many countries and with hundreds or thousands of employees.  

Alternative ways to enable cloud-based calls in Teams

Until now, there have been two ways to enable cloud-based calls via Microsoft Teams using Microsoft Phone System. One is to use one of the Microsoft Teams Calling Plans. The other option is to use Direct Routing. Let’s look at each, briefly, then look at how Operator Connect compares and may well be your ideal solution.  

Microsoft Teams Calling Plans – a nice match, but not so flexible

Microsoft Teams Calling Plans offer perhaps the simplest option and use a straightforward PUPM (per-user, per-month) model. This lets you give each user a bundle of outbound calling minutes plus a phone number for inbound calls. It’s certainly an easy way to get going with cloud telephony in Teams. So, what’s not to like about matching up Microsoft Teams with a Microsoft Teams Calling Plan? One consideration is that since Microsoft isn’t a carrier, its calling plans aren’t the most cost-effective. It may not seem much on a simple PUPM basis, but those users and those months will soon add up. Multiply that cost by hundreds or thousands of employees and you may be missing out on considerable savings.

Another key consideration will be geographical coverage. If you need countries beyond those currently offered by Microsoft, you’ll undoubtedly need to look elsewhere. It’s also worth noting that if you have more bespoke needs – as is likely in larger enterprises – you’ll probably need additional support to access the complementary services that you’ll almost certainly need. Going with Microsoft Teams Calling Plans is a nice match for Microsoft Teams but ultimately, it’s not the most flexible choice.  

Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams 

At the other end of the scale is Direct Routing. This option was introduced by Microsoft to let you choose your own provider and with it, a range of other benefits. In contrast to its own calling plans, Direct Routing gives you greater control of your phone numbers. This allows you to keep what you already have rather than take on board a whole new swathe of Microsoft-assigned numbers and be slowed down by the migration process. In addition, because you can choose your own carrier, you can find a provider with greater geographical reach – and perhaps better value – than Microsoft currently offers.

Further, for those with more bespoke needs, Direct Routing also offers the means to work with more than one cloud platform too. Not every business will want to limit their telephony just to the Microsoft Teams environment. Finally, you may also wish to avoid any of the risks that could come from switching to a new provider. Staying with your current provider and bringing them into Teams may enable you to keep the existing working relationship and deal you have.

Direct Routing: flexible but fiddly

As you can see, Direct Routing is much more flexible and suited to larger, more complex scenarios. It’s perhaps then no surprise that Metrigy research earlier this year found that around 70% of organizations planning to deploy Microsoft Teams Phone System by the end of 2021, plan to use Direct Routing to connect to PSTN rather than use Microsoft’s own offering within Teams, to obtain numbers and then separately need to configure these along with the necessary SBCs (Session Border Controllers).  

Yet, although Direct Routing is a flexible way to bring cloud-based telephony to Microsoft Teams, it also has its limitations. In short, it’s flexible but fiddly. If you’re a relatively small organization and unlikely to require many changes then Direct Routing could be fine for your needs. However, it can be tricky and time-consuming to configure, and you may well need help from a third-party provider.

Naturally, there are plenty of companies who will offer to set things up for you, but in going down this route, the sheer number of providers in this space is a good indicator that you are moving into relatively unchartered waters. With Direct Routing, you are very much in your provider’s hands. This may be fine in many cases, and there are relevant uses for Direct Routing but where you have bespoke needs – whether routine work adding and removing leavers and joiners, or more particular tasks in mind, you may yearn to have greater control at your fingertips and a more assured way of working. 

Operator Connect: cloud-based Teams telephony at an industrialized level 

Operator Connect brings a third choice to the fore. While Direct Routing is a popular option for many, Operator Connect takes things to another level. This new initiative from Microsoft is a partnership with a select group of telephony providers, including NTT, to provide a carrier-grade service. With Operator Connect, you benefit from the technology and investment of each partner, and the seal of approval from Microsoft that you are working with an approved carrier. The last thing you want when you switch to cloud-based telephony is for your call quality to drop, or for there to be network problems without carrier-grade SLA and support. 

What’s more, Operator Connect delivers an industrialized approach to cloud-based telephony. It’s the solution most suited for larger organizations that need to work at scale. Key to this is the focus on professional front-end management. Whereas Direct Routing involves more of a DIY approach, fiddling around with a metaphorical Swiss Army knife to make adjustments, Operator Connect offers you an easy framework to work with..  

What Operator Connect gives you is an easy-to-use front-end within Microsoft Teams itself. You can easily dive in, select your carrier, provision what you need, and make changes as required. It’s all straightforward to do without any worries or concerns, and with the assurance of Microsoft vetted and certified providers, you can be sure of the quality standard you’d expect. It’s why Operator Connect is such a game-changer. Direct Routing has much going for it but, by contrast, providers are not vetted in the same way, and working with a third-party provider without this level of certification from Microsoft may not give you the guarantees or the control you need.  

Operator Connect – the ‘just right’ solution 

As one of Microsoft’s selected carriers, we not only deliver Operator Connect but do so with a market-leading service. I won’t expand on these in-depth here, but I will mention the headline points. Firstly, we cover more countries – currently 39 and growing – than almost every other provider. Secondly, we offer the most competitive calling plans – frankly, we believe them to be unbeatable. Finally, you can benefit from the complementary services we offer. These include Network Services, Managed Services, Cloud Video Interoperability, Compliance Recording solutions, and CCaaS (Contact Center as a Service). Whatever your organization’s needs, we give you one front desk, giving you incredible centralized choice and control.   

Much like the story of Goldilocks, Operator Connect offers a ‘just right’ solution. It’s neither as simplified as Microsoft’s own Calling Plans, nor as fiddly as Direct Routing. If you’d like to get involved in the public preview, do read more about Operator Connect from NTT. You can also use the following link to request a free Operator Connect trial


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About the author

Nathalie Peltier is Senior Product Manager at the Cloud Communication Division of NTT, responsible for developing and launching value-added services that complement our global vendor solutions. With over 14 years experience in product management roles, previously with DHL EXPRESS, she joined us in 2012 to work on our in-house audio-conferencing solutions. Since 2018, she has supported our Microsoft solutions within our Cloud UC Product Management team. Nathalie holds a Business School marketing degree as well as Prince 2, ITIL and Agile certifications.

Together we do great things