Microsoft Bumps Up Teams Plans SLAs, Adds Operator Connect Conferencing Partner Support

Microsoft Teams users lacking good Internet connections for meetings are getting some enhancements, according to a couple of recent Microsoft announcements.

First, Microsoft upped its service-level agreement (SLA) assurances for Teams phones to 99.99 percent (up from 99.9 percent) for three services, namely Microsoft Teams Calling Plans, Phone System and PSTN Audio Conferencing, per a Dec. 2 announcement.

Next, Microsoft expanded its Operator Connect partner program to include the Audio Conferencing feature, per another Dec. 2 announcement.

Microsoft additionally published some tips for IT pros to ensure optimal Teams connections under "hybrid" work scenarios (office use plus remote worker use).

Operator Connect Conferencing
Operator Connect is a partner program with telecom operators that lets Teams users leverage the public switched telephone network (PSTN) for Teams meetings. Microsoft went live with Operator Connect back in November.

What's new now is the "general availability" (commercial release) of Audio Conferencing as enabled by Operator Connect partners, which Microsoft describes as its "Operator Connect Conferencing" product. The Operator Connect Conferencing product lets organizations use participating telecom service providers to support Teams dial-in connections.

Here's how Operator Connect Conferencing works, per the announcement:

Using the same administrator interface as Operator Connect, this new service allows tenant admins to add participating operator dial-in numbers to a Teams audio conferencing bridge. You can keep your existing contract with any of the participating operators or select from a list of partners within the "Operators" tab in the Teams admin center.

Operator Connect Conferencing is currently available from telecom partners "BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Orange Business Services and Telenor," the announcement indicated.

Microsoft's Audio Conferencing feature isn't new, but its administration through telecom partners is new. Audio Conferencing is for people who start meetings, and lets them use their phone to do so. It might be used when people are on the road and lacking robust bandwidth connections for a Teams session.

Microsoft had indicated back in August that it was planning to expand Audio Conferencing beyond its current Microsoft 365 and Office 365 "E5" top-tier plan offerings to other, lower tier product offerings. That product change was expected to occur "over the next few months," Microsoft had indicated back then.

99.99 SLA Enhancement
Microsoft also announced an increase in its SLA service uptime assurances for Teams phones to 99.99 percent (from 99.9 percent) for Microsoft Teams Calling Plans, Phone System and PSTN Audio Conferencing.

Microsoft characterized this change as enabling end users to "initiate a PSTN call, dial into conference audio via the PSTN, or process calls with Call Queues or Auto Attendant 99.99% of the time."

Subscribers get a service credit if the service falls below that "four-nines" threshold, with the announcement suggesting it's "a monthly service credit up to 100%." The service credit is actually tiered, though, and not necessarily 100 percent, as shown in tables presented by Tom Arbuthnot, a unified communications solutions architect, Microsoft Certified Master and Microsoft Most Valuable professional, in this blog post.

Arbuthnot also noted that what's really new in Microsoft's announcement is that Phone System now has four-nines SLA support. The main Teams service and Voice Quality service are still at the "three-nines" SLA level, though, he added:

Interestingly while the Calling Plans, Phone System, and Audio Conferencing SLA went to 99.99%, the core service SLA and Voice quality SLA remain at 99.9%.  Which is up to 43 minutes 49.7 seconds of downtime per month before it's breached. This is in line with most of the other Office 365 services that also offer a 99.9% SLA.

Microsoft doesn't automatically credit accounts when things go awry. Organizations have to submit a claim to Microsoft's customer support with a description of the incident, downtime duration, number of affected users and a description of "your attempts to resolve the Incident at the time of occurrence," Arbuthnot noted.

Teams Tips for IT Pros
Microsoft recommended three checks for organizations using Teams. First, IT pros should use "direct connectivity" to the Teams service endpoints, which are "dedicated IP address ranges with four UDP ports." Microsoft's announcement listed some tools to use for the purpose.

IT pros should also validate the network capacity used for the Teams service by monitoring proxy loads and network address translation pool use. "While Teams is adaptive to the available bandwidth and can deal with low-bandwidth situations, ensuring that sufficient bandwidth is available creates better experiences for meeting participants," the announcement explained.

Lastly, Microsoft recommended that IT pros ensure that devices are optimized for Teams use, which can be done by checking device health within the Teams Admin Center portal. 

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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