Demystifying the Voice & Meeting Capabilities of Skype for Business Online

This past November, Microsoft announced the launch of several new Skype for Business communications services to modernize voice, video, and meeting experiences. New capabilities such as Skype Meeting Broadcast, PSTN conferencing, and Cloud PBX with an option to add PSTN calling are now offered as part of Microsoft’s Office 365 E5 plan. Over the next 12-18 months, Microsoft will continue to rollout additional features to support these services and bring them up to full parity with on-premises Skype for Business. In the meantime, it is important to understand how to best take advantage of the benefits of Skype for Business online while maintaining any required functionality.

A closer look at the new Skype for Business capabilities:
  • Skype Meeting Broadcast enables you to host online meetings for up to 10,000 people. While only available as part of Office 365, this new capability provides a compelling alternative to expensive webinar platforms and an easier way to organize large-scale internal meetings. It is included as a benefit with either E1, E3, or E5 and for those who have premise based deployments it will require additional hybrid connectivity.
  • PSTN Conferencing allows Office 365 users to add Microsoft provided phone numbers to their Skype for Business meetings so participants can join conferences by dialing in from a landline or mobile phone even if they are not connected to the Internet. Dial-in Conferencing numbers can be added on to any E1 or E3 plan and is an included benefit with Plan E5. These numbers are available in multiple countries to serve the needs of globally dispersed workforces.
  • Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling- Cloud PBX enables Office 365 users to enhance their Skype for Business experience by extending calling capabilities of Skype for Business to the PSTN network. With the addition of a Microsoft PSTN calling plan to a Cloud PBX subscription it also enables employees to make and receive traditional phone calls and use features like hold, forward, resume, and transfer, without the need for any premise based hardware. These capabilities are available as an add-in complement to E3 licensing or available as a benefit with the E5 plan. PSTN calling plans from Microsoft require an additional commitment and are available as either a National or International/National plan.
On-Premise PBX features not yet available in Skye for Business Online
Skype for Business on-premises currently provides all the features and functionality to replace your enterprise PBX however, the following features are currently not yet available with Skype for Business Online:
  • Automated attendant – for callers to be transferred to an extension without operator assistance
  • Response Group Services - to provide call routing to departments or groups of people who manage certain types of calls such as customer service or help desk
  • International phone numbers - International calling plans enable to you make international calls however the ability to purchase non-US phone numbers (other than dial in conferencing) is not available yet
  • Integration with third-party applications – such as call center solutions or CRM
Determining the right PBX upgrade for your organization
For those looking for a cloud solution to replace their enterprise PBX, there are three approaches we recommend to clients depending on their needs.
  • Full Skype for Business Online Migration: This is a great option for small businesses or those that do not need to take immediate advantage of advanced on-premises features listed earlier.
  • Hybrid Skype for Business Online & On-Premises: This approach is really the best of both worlds, giving your company the ability to leverage the scalability and power of Microsoft’s cloud while keeping the additional on-premises features. Office 365 users will be able to use on-premises Skype for Business for PSTN services but can also use the conferencing services of the cloud. This would eliminate the need for additional investments to support large meetings.
  • Light Hybrid Cloud PBX and Skype for Business: Appliances such as Audio Codes Cloud Bond 365 can provide a bridge between Skype for Business server and Microsoft’s Cloud PBX. With minimal investment, these appliances can provide missing features until Microsoft releases them in Office 365.
While full feature parity is not yet available, leveraging some or all of Skype for Business Online can still simplify your infrastructure, lower your overall communications costs, and provide your employees with the tools they need to easily connect. Not sure which approach is best for your needs? Contact us today for a free evaluation.

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