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Office 365 E5, Cloud PBX, PSTN Calling : Is Microsoft Becoming a Telephone Company?

Disclaimer: All this information is as of November 5th 2015. Make sure to remember that when reading in the future.

The new Office 365 E5 plan will include:

With this Microsoft’s goal is to expand the Office 365 market opportunity by more than $50 billion.

 

So the natural question is….

Is Microsoft Turning (also) into a Telephone Company?

Yes, absolutely they are. To make all these cloud PBX things to work they will be able to issue and manage individual telephone numbers for your business, which came to me as a surprise, and it is part of the new voice services that are coming in to Office 365. Not only this but if you have your own telephone number with a traditional telephone service, you can port your number to Microsoft. The new kids on the block are called: Cloud PBX and PSTN Calling.

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How the Office 365 Plans Look Now?

Here you can see the new look of the Office 365 E plans and prices.

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What About Customers Already on Office 365 E4 Plan?

Office 365 E4 will be phased-out and customers who are still interested in on-premise voice services can buy additional CAL subscriptions.

 

What is Cloud PBX?

Cloud PBX is your call control from the cloud. See this as a service that enables to control where the calls are going, but that's just one component. In order to allow a connection between an actual telephone network, a calling plan is needed. Customers can then either chose to:

  1. Have their call control in the cloud and route down to on premise and then call with one of the existing providers or
  2. They can choose to contract Microsoft Cloud Telephony services and connect their calls from the cloud.

 

What is PSTN Conferencing?

PSTN Conferencing Is the ability to be able to dial-in to conference meetings. Microsoft will be able to provide customers with actual real telephone numbers to call. As a trivia bonus, this is the same service used during the last Olympics for conferencing. It has initially a “limit” of 10.000 people connected to the same conference but according to Microsoft really this number is “in theory”. There is no limit except whatever is provided by the infrastructure. This service is provided by PSTN Calling

 

Will PSTN conferencing Be Available as Add-on for Skype For Business Subscription Plans and E3?

All services existing on the new E5 are already available as individual add-ons to E3 customers, assuming the pre-requisites are there. For example, you won't be able  to add PSTN calling if you don’t have cloud PBX service first, obviously. Any of the services available in E5 can be purchased individually. Dollar for dollar, for bigger deployments the best value will be go all the way to E5 instead of keeping E3 and adding individual add-ons.

 

For Hybrid Cloud PBX Scenarios, If a Customer Wants to Buy E5 and Wants to Integrate with Their Own PBX, How Easy Would That Be?

Hum…easy? Yes and no. At the moment, there is no easy answer for that. At this stage what we can confirm is that at least currently there is technology to deploy that sort of integration with existing PBX systems and take advantage of Cloud PBX services.

Having said that, if the question is not about integrating with current PBX systems but instead you just want to take advantage of your own existing telephone connectivity to your current provider, that's a much simpler proposition. This will require a small number of small virtual machines acting as gateways and depending on what you want to achieve there is likely a gateway appliance involved in that architecture. And according to Microsoft this is how most of the customers are thinking about doing it.

According Microsoft research, people want to do this on a hybrid setting because they are simply not ready to go to the cloud and move all the users up there and trust a telephone company to help them. Nobody has ever done this what Microsoft is doing it with E5, specially at this scale.

Another tip: If you are familiar with ExpressRoute, customers can use it to connect their on premise to the cloud with a private connection keeping their current telephony carrier. As a matter of fact, this is the recommendation from Microsoft: Use ExpressRoute because you won’t rely on the public internet and, according to them,  one will have more certainty and consistency in their telephony experience.

 

How Will the Billing System Work? How to Control Abuse/overuse of the Telephone Infrastructure with Office 365 E5?

Well, as of today, there are no over-usage charges as per-se in the new E5 plan. What is going to be put in place is monitoring of fraudulent behaviour and subsequent remediation. Let's say for example, someone left the telephone unattended for hours and hours and there is no audio. E5 will detect there is no voice coming through the endpoints so the call will be automatically disconnected. In that sense, it is expected there will be parameters that will monitor and manage and remediate issues/misuse when they occur, but MS at this stage did not signal any additional charges in the billion for over usage.

Also a cool thing if you live in the US is that the domestic service will be launched in the US with unlimited dial-in and out calls.

 

I love These Ideas. What Can I/We/My Company Do Now?

  • If you or your company have access, deploy Skype for Business internally as soon as you can, then deploy the preview cloud PBX, PSTN conferencing and calling before the December 1st launch. Visit www.skypepreview.com for more info.
  • Learns about Skype for Business Cloud Services. What Microsoft is doing here is an unprecedented move, from any cloud provider as a matter of fact, and with it a lot of new concepts, considerations and technologies comes into play. Now is the best time to learn about it and to position yourself as an early adopter on this growing market.
  • If you’re a partner, start working on communications strategies to discuss opportunities on hybrid systems integration. A lot of people will be interested in learning more about it.