Microsoft Teams Getting New Calling Capabilities

Microsoft this week advanced the calling capabilities of its Office 365 Teams collaboration service by adding more Skype for Business capabilities to it.

The shift of those capabilities to Teams is part of a general Microsoft plan. In September, Microsoft had announced that the Teams client application would be replacing the Skype for Business client as part of Microsoft's "intelligent communications" makeover. Under that approach, the Teams client will be the main hub for chat, calling and videoconferencing activities going forward, although the Skype for Business products are continuing.

Office 365 tenancies using the Teams client will be getting the following calling capabilities this week, according to Microsoft's announcement:

  • Call history
  • Hold/resume
  • Speed dial, transfer, forwarding and caller ID masking
  • Extension dialing
  • Multiple-call handling
  • Simultaneous ringing
  • Voicemail
  • Text telephone support

The capabilities will show up in the "Calls" tab of the Teams client, under certain conditions. Otherwise, IT pros will have to enable them. The announcement also mentioned that Microsoft Graph support was getting improved with this Teams client update.

Microsoft typically rolls out its Office 365 improvements gradually to tenancies, but there are also requirements to be able to use these newly available calling capabilities. Organizations need to have Office 365 subscriptions that include certain Skype for Business capabilities.

For instance, they'll need the Phone System feature (formerly called "Cloud PBX"), which is offered as an add-on or as part of the Office 365 E5 plan. They'll also need the Calling Plans feature (formerly called "PSTN Calling").

IT pros will have to provision end users to have access to the Phone System and Calling Plans features for the new calling capabilities to be enabled, according to Microsoft's "Quick Start Guide." However, if those capabilities are already enabled with the Skype for Business Online service, and an organization is using the "default global Teams interop policy," then the capabilities will be available in the Calling tab of the Teams client without requiring IT action. The Quick Start Guide actually warns IT pros against modifying the global interop policy for Teams from their default values.

Regional availability also needs to be assessed. Microsoft provides complex information about Audio Conferencing and Calling Plans availability in this support document.

The Calling Plans feature permits end users to make and receive calls, from inside the organization and out. It works across PCs and mobile devices via voice-over-IP service and it also works with regular phones using the public switched telephone network. The Audio Conferencing feature permits the use of a telephone to dial into an audio conference.

Some Calling Plans capabilities aren't currently supported in Teams. Hybrid voice, a discontinued multitenant configuration option that was designed to connect Lync Online with Lync Server for voice communications, isn't supported. Similarly, "federated calling," which Microsoft defines as "calling between tenants/companies," is not supported.

While Skype for Business does support federated calling, if the default client is changed to Teams in an organization, it'll affect Skype for Business IP phones, and "incoming calls will not be received on the phones," the Quick Start document warned.

IT pros should test enabling the new calling features with a set of end users first before rolling the capabilities out more broadly, the Quick Start document advised.

Unified Guidance
Microsoft claims to have unified its guidance materials for Teams and Skype for Business Online as of this week. It aligned its Skype Operations Framework "guidance and processes into [the] FastTrack digital experience," a Microsoft Tech Community post explained. FastTrack is Microsoft's partner support effort.

The resources for organizations making the transition to Teams are housed at the MyAdvisor portal. Skype for Business partners that can lend assistance are listed at this page. Microsoft counts over 160 partners worldwide to help.

A similar Microsoft Tech Community post explained that Microsoft has released three guides to help organizations with phone-transition details associated with moving to Teams. The guides are described in this post.

Skype for Business News
Microsoft continues to develop its Skype for Business products. This week, Microsoft announced that Call Queues, a feature that automatically distributes incoming calls based on rules, is getting three new capabilities for Skype for Business Online users that have the Phone System feature enabled.

A new Serial Routing capability distributes calls to the "Call Queue Agents one by one." There's a new "Timeout in Seconds" capability for IT pros to specify the maximum call waiting times. Lastly, the announcement indicated that "Office 365 Groups can be used with Call Queues to add Agents."

Yet another announcement noted that the Holidays capability in the Auto Attendant feature is "now available to all Phone System customers."

Organizations using Skype Room Systems version 2, Microsoft's large-screen videoconferencing product, got a warning this week. In an announcement, Microsoft stated that "IT administrators should not manually upgrade SRS v2 devices to Windows 10 versions greater than 1703 until further notice."

Microsoft is currently blocking the automated update system used with Skype Room Systems from delivering Windows 10 upgrades beyond version 1703. The exact problem with upgrades wasn't described, but Microsoft promised to provide more information "at a future date." The last update to Skype Room Systems update apparently was distributed in November.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.


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