Monday, November 16, 2015

Skype for Business Online Voice Refresher and E5 Licensing Explained

"I'm getting that Cloud Voice Whatchamacallit!"

I have had several conversations lately where it has become clear that there is definitely excitement around the emergence of calling (PSTN) capabilities in Office 365, but that there is also a bit of confusion about the various terms that are related to this functionality. This confusion can become compounded with the different hybrid options that are also available, and still in Preview (and thus, still subject to some change). The distinctions are becoming more important to make, however, as the time is right around the corner to start paying for these services!

With the arrival of the Office 365 E5 sku on Dec. 1, I figured now was as good a time as any to throw a few of the terms out there, and chat about what is what. For starters, lets talk about the "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling" preview.

Cloud PBX

Alright, so when the preview came out, it was called "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling", and it was a single preview. This made it feel like the new functionality that you were previewing was a single feature or billable product. However, that is not quite the case. That "with" is really a bridge that allowed you to preview two separately billable items. "Cloud PBX" refers to the call control features and abilities that are present for a user that is licensed for Cloud PBX in Office 365. Essentially, a properly licensed user for Cloud PBX has similar features available that they would have over their phone via an on-premise PBX. This sets them up for being able to make/manage calls and have voice connectivity to the PSTN, BUT, it does not actually provide them with that connectivity, a phone number, or dial plan with minutes. Much the same way that you can enable a user for Enterprise Voice in Skype for Business Server 2015, which brings with it additional licensing costs, that user still cannot call a phone number unless you have also paid a provider for service and phone numbers.

So, why would you even have Cloud PBX if it doesn't allow you to make calls to/from the PSTN? Well, you would not have Cloud PBX by itself, plain and simple, unless you enjoy flushing money down the drain. This will always be paired with a voice plan of some sort, whether it be directly through Microsoft's cloud, or through your existing voice provider on-prem. The E5 base plan will include Cloud PBX, but unless you bring your own voice services to the table, the PSTN Calling is an additional cost to the base E5 plan.

PSTN Calling

Alright, so now that we have sort of established "Cloud PBX" as a needed base license for PSTN capabilities in Skype for Business Online, what do we need to actually get a phone number assigned to a user, and to allow that user to place and  receive phone calls on the PSTN? That would be the piece that we refer to as "PSTN Calling"! While this will not be included in the base E5 plan, you can add this service on for about an extra $12/month/user, and this will  provide you with the needed phone number and a dial plan to start making calls, all packaged within Microsoft's cloud. According to this article, that total package will  run you about $47/month/user, and will give you about 3,000 minutes of talk time (U.S. talk time; International is extra). Not too shabby!

Cloud PBX with On-Prem PSTN Calling

So that is a bit more of a mouth-full. As the very descriptive name implies, however, this gives you the above PSTN Calling functionality for your Cloud PBX licensed users by connecting your existing on-prem Skype for Business Enterprise Voice environment to your Skype for Business Online environment. Yes, we are talking about Hybrid here, with Directory Synchronization and the whole nine yards! Not only does this approach allow you to extend your existing Enterprise Voice functionality to your Office 365 users, but it also provides you with a gradual approach for slowly migrating an increasing base of users to Skype for Business Online. A lot of flexibility is introduced with this! However, before suddenly migrating all your users to the Cloud while maintaining your on-prem Enterprise Voice environment, keep in mind that not all features will be able to port over with your Online users. For example, Response Groups will only work on-prem. Check out this article for a complete list of which features will or won't work for Online voice users:

PSTN Conferencing

Alright, I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory, but for the sake of being thorough, I'll glaze over it as well. Unlike the PSTN Calling add-on for the E5 plan, PSTN Conferencing is included in the E5 license, and does NOT come with a cap on minutes. This of course provides users with access to a conferencing phone number so that they can schedule Skype for Business meetings, and allow outside or anonymous users to join these meetings via PSTN dialin. Again, this would be packaged through services available in Microsoft's cloud, so you don't have to do the leg work of finding a provider and signing another contract.

In Conclusion...

So, for those of you that were starting to confuse any of these terms, blending any of them together, looking for a better high-level understanding of how all these new features relate to the upcoming E5 release, or just wanted to find out some preliminary E5 pricing details, I hope this helped prepare a bit better for what's coming. It's a bright and crazy new world out there, folks, and piece by piece, it's moving to the cloud!

Stay techy, my friends!

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