Tag Archives: telephony

New telephony controls coming to Microsoft Teams admin center

Microsoft will add several telephony controls to the Microsoft Teams admin center in the coming months, a significant move in the vendor’s campaign to retire Skype for Business Online by mid-2021.

Admins will be able to build, test and manage custom dial plans through the Teams portal. Additionally, organizations that use Microsoft Calling Plan will be able to create and assign phone numbers and designate emergency addresses for users.

Currently, admins can only perform those tasks in Teams through the legacy admin center for Skype for Business Online. Microsoft has been gradually moving controls to the Teams admin center, with telephony controls among the last to switch over.

Microsoft plans to begin adding the new telephony controls to the Teams admin center in November, according to the vendor’s Office 365 Roadmap webpage. The company will also introduce some advanced features it didn’t support in Skype for Business Online, a cloud-based app within Office 365.

The update will let admins configure what’s known as dynamic emergency calling. The feature — supported only in the on-premises version of Skype for Business — automatically detects a user’s location when they place a 911 call. It then transmits that information to emergency officials.

The admin center for Skype for Business Online is “fairly rudimentary,” said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems, a Microsoft-focused systems integrator. The new console for Teams provides advancements like the ability to sort and filter users and phone numbers.

“All of these little features add up to making a more friendly voice platform for an administrator,” Arbuthnot said. “They are getting closer and closer to everything being administered in the Teams admin center.”

Microsoft Teams still missing advanced calling controls, features

The superior design of the admin center notwithstanding, Teams still lacks crucial tools for organizations too large to use the management console.

For those enterprises, Teams PowerShell is the go-to tool for auto-configuring settings on a large scale using code-based commands. However, PowerShell cannot do everything that the Teams admin center can do. Microsoft has also yet to release APIs that would allow a third-party consultant to help manage a Fortune 500 company’s transition to Teams calling.

“When you’re up to hundreds of thousands of seats, you don’t really want to be going to an admin center and manually administrating,” Arbuthnot said. “The PowerShell and APIs tend to lag a little bit.”

A lack of parity between the telephony features of Skype for Business and Teams had been one of the biggest roadblocks preventing organizations from fully transitioning from the old to the new platform.

But at this point, Teams should be suitable for everyone except those with the most complex needs, such as receptionists, Arbuthnot said.

Other features that Microsoft is planning include compliance call recording, virtual desktop infrastructure support and contact center integrations.

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Cisco adds UC headset management to IT console

Cisco has added headset management and analytics tools to the IT dashboard of its flagship on-premises telephony product. The move is part of a campaign to penetrate a corner of the unified communications market Cisco had previously ceded to hardware partners.

Cisco for years relied exclusively on vendors such as Poly (formerly Plantronics) and Jabra to provide customers with headsets for its desk phones and UC apps. In March 2018, Cisco released its headsets in an attempt to capture a slice of a market that Frost & Sullivan expects to exceed $2 billion by 2024.

The new UC headset management tools are a crucial part of Cisco’s sales pitch. Unlike competitors that specialize only in endpoints, Cisco also makes the telecommunications products that its headsets are used with, allowing Cisco to include a more comprehensive set of analytics and management tools in a single dashboard.

A recent update to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), an on-premises and hosted IP-based telephony system, added headset management capabilities to the same dashboard that IT administrators already use to troubleshoot call quality issues and other Cisco phones.

IT administrators can use the console to update the firmware of Cisco headsets or alter settings for volume, audio bandwidth and wireless range. Admins can perform the tasks for individuals or groups of employees all at once. The dashboard also provides an inventory of headsets that includes non-Cisco devices.

The tools are not revolutionary. Most major hardware vendors have developed software for managing endpoints that provide a similar level of control. Businesses are coming to expect these types of consoles as they buy headsets in increasing numbers.

The latest tools are available now in CUCM version 12.5(1)SU1. Later this year, businesses still using version 11.5(1)SU7 will be able to access them without updating to the latest edition of CUCM.

Cisco’s new headset management technology is only for CUCM. The company has yet to bring the same features to the IT dashboard of Webex, a cloud-based calling, messaging and meetings app.

Cisco offers four lines of headsets for office and contact center workers, a mix of wired and DECT wireless devices. The vendor is planning to release Bluetooth-enabled headsets in the coming months.

Cisco is not the only new entrant in the headset market. Longtime UC rival Avaya released a line of headsets in early 2019 as part of a broader campaign to boost hardware sales. Around the same time, Avaya launched its first open-SIP phones, which work with the communications platform of any vendor.

Professional headset revenues were projected to increase at an average annual rate of 8% between 2017 and 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan. The increased demand stems in part from the growing popularity of cloud UC and softphones, which let users place and receive calls through their computer.

“Cisco’s newly introduced headset management tools follow the moves of the leading professional headset vendors in the space,” said Alaa Sayeed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “It is surely a positive step forward from a company that is visibly investing in the pro headset arena as part of its broad enterprise endpoints portfolio.”

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Don’t get hung up on Office 365 Cloud PBX pitfalls

For IT administrators, the value of Microsoft’s Office 365 Cloud PBX service is that it consolidates telephony…

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services with email messages and cloud storage in one consumable portal. But make no mistake, this is not plug-and-play.

Admins must be sure their in-house business technology is compatible with the service to get all of its features. Office 365 Cloud PBX with public switched telephone network (PSTN) dialing capabilities enables workers to use Skype for Business Online to:

  • place, receive, transfer and mute calls;
  • click a name in the address book and call the contact; and
  • use mobile devices, a headset with a laptop or PC or an IP phone that works with Skype for Business.

However, the real benefit is that Cloud PBX integrates those features into the Office 365 portal. Admins manage all the Office 365 services, which include mailboxes and licenses, in one place and need only contact one vendor should a problem arise. But like any move to a cloud service, it requires planning and preparation.

Here are some benefits of Office 365 Cloud PBX and tips on how to easily transition to the cloud service.

Office 365 now fully replicates on premises

Many IT admins use the administrative console to handle some of the major applications within Office 365, such as Exchange, SharePoint, licensing and Skype for Business.

But Office 365 didn’t fully replace on-premises servers until Microsoft included a PBX service in the E5 subscription plan. Office 365 Cloud PBX includes critical features, such as call queues and an automated attendant, to make the service more comparable — and, therefore, a full-blown replacement — to Exchange Server for businesses.

Microsoft catches up on needed features

Businesses expect modern unified communications (UC)  platforms to offer advanced features, such as collaboration tools, mobility, call routing, hunt groups, instant messaging, presence technology, voicemail on the go and portability to take an extension or direct inward dialing anywhere users want. Businesses wish to use these platforms as a service and don’t expect to purchase hardware other than the clients’ handsets.

However, many admins found that Office 365 E5’s early release fell short. The main complaint was that it lacked two essential features: automated attendant functionality and call queues.

Office 365 didn’t fully replace on-premises servers until Microsoft included a PBX service in the E5 subscription plan.

Microsoft finally released those capabilities for general Office 365 tenants in April 2017. The company offered Skype for Business Online as a complete, hosted option with enterprise features and functions that are comparable to its on-premises counterpart. This means IT administrators don’t deal with the complexities and challenges of an on-premises voice over IP (VoIP) and keep the crucial features that the enterprise needs.

Microsoft will replace Skype for Business Online with Microsoft Teams likely by 2020, a problematic development for companies that rely on the former for telephony services.

IT considerations before a move

The introduction of a cloud-based UC system requires planning and preparation. Consider the following checklist before you bring Office 365 Cloud PBX into the business.

Avoid points of failure: Like an email server, a phone is a critical communication component. Before you install Office 365 Cloud PBX, make sure your system has multiple reliable network connections. For example, a manufacturing firm located in a rural area can’t switch its phone system to the cloud without this redundancy.

Look into new handsets: Before an organization replaces its existing VoIP with Skype for Business, IT needs to determine if the legacy handsets work with Office 365 Cloud PBX. Microsoft supports several hardware vendors, but Skype for Business with PSTN might not be compatible with some handsets. Check your firmware requirements.

Consider compliance requirements: Security is always a concern when an enterprise moves data into the cloud. Office 365 provides functionality, such as specific rules and policies, to help enterprises meet compliance obligations in email messages, archives and e-discovery. Skype for Business includes similar capabilities to archive and search for messages and interactions. In addition, admins can access detailed audit trails on communications for security reviews.

Monitor usage to manage costs: IT admins that oversee corporate mobile devices should know how to monitor data usage; it helps them stay on budget, and it identifies which resources each user consumes. Similarly, Skype for Business offers domestic and international plans with a set number of minutes. IT admins should examine several reports to monitor those plans and manage costs.

Next Steps

Survey the entire landscape before an Office 365 move

Vendors struggle with mobile unified communications

Steps to use Skype for Business in your business