Early in 2020, Microsoft added Microsoft 365 Business Voice to its popular Microsoft Teams platform. Microsoft 365 or Microsoft 365 Business, formerly known as Office 365, offers this voice-over IP (VoIP) add-on. Some may dismiss it as a stripped-down VoIP add-on for Teams, but we found its functionality and Microsoft’s integration efforts to be great, particularly with Teams, but also with the rest of Microsoft 365. Most of what holds this product behind our VoIP Bible‘s Telecommunication Engineers’ Choice winners in the VoIP category, including offerings like RingCentral Office and Intermedia Unite, is some onerous configuration choices and a cap on both calling plans and users.
As many organizations convert from Private Branch Exchange (PBX) to Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP), it can be a daunting task to migrate an entire company’s telephony system. Having a solid phone infrastructure in place if your company relies on receiving inbound customer calls or sustaining team communication across multiple locations. We go over the functionality and features of Microsoft’s IP telephony solution in our Microsoft Teams review to determine if it’s one of the best VoIP services for your business.
This product has all of the capabilities you’d expect from a small business VoIP solution, such as auto-attendants, call queues, and group calling, as well as extensive interaction with Microsoft’s ecosystem. However, Teams must serve as the entry point for that integration. This isn’t too strict of a requirement because Microsoft Teams has progressively earned its way into the crucial productivity app category for many firms, especially those dealing with significant numbers of work-from-home employees during the epidemic. When calculating the overall cost of the solution for your organization, both Teams and Microsoft 365 will be considered.
Plans and price for the Microsoft Teams Phone System
Your company must have one of the three Office 365 enterprise plans to use Microsoft Teams as a phone system (named E1, E3, and E5).
Businesses will need to purchase extra licenses to utilize Teams as a phone system at $8/month per user with E1 ($8/month per user) and E3 ($20/month per user). The E5 plan, on the other hand, includes everything at $35 per month per user.
As an add-on to Teams, you may expect it to focus mainly on software focusing on mobile, but Microsoft went to great lengths to ensure that this platform could also be used in a traditional office setting. The company presented us with a Yealink MP56, a ubiquitous VoIP-compatible desktop phone, to demonstrate its point. While SIP compatibility and Microsoft Teams certification were both unique to this desktop phone, Microsoft maintains a list of Teams-certified devices on its website, emphasizing its importance in ensuring the optimal experience.
This means, in addition to paying for specific hardware (if that’s a need), you’ll also need to pay for a Microsoft 365 subscription. The company offers a variety of plans, starting at $5 a month per user. That’s for Microsoft 365 Business Basic. Which includes Word, Excel, and PowerPoint web and mobile editions. Microsoft 365 Business Voice is now available for a single $20 price added to any Microsoft 365 account, but two significant drawbacks are. First, there’s the monthly minute limit, which is set at 3,000. That adds out to 50 hours per month, which may seem like a lot, but in voice-intensive professions like custody, it can quickly add up.
This means it won’t compete with enterprise-focused services like VoIP Bible’s Choice winner RingCentral or Vonage Business Cloud but instead focuses on SMB-focused offerings like Intermedia Unite or 8×8’s X Series. Microsoft 365 Business Voice doesn’t compare well to these SMB-focused competitors in terms of price per feature, but it’s not horrible. However, for firms already familiar with Microsoft Teams, its low cost and ease of use will make it a very appealing option, especially now that its capabilities have been increased.
Businesses will also need to pay an extra fee for direct routing through a third party or purchase call plans from Microsoft in addition to these plans.
A domestic calling plan with 3000 domestic minutes costs $12 per user per month. Meanwhile, a 3000 domestic minutes and 600 international minutes domestic and international calling plan costs $24 per month per user. Each user must have their own call plan, though unused minutes can be pooled if coworkers have different usage levels.
If your company has many meeting rooms with conference phones, each of these will require a $15/month license.
Portfolio of Microsoft Voice (Microsoft Teams Phone System)
Microsoft has made multiple announcements and releases between 2020 and 2021 to improve Teams and its VoIP, video conferencing, and collaboration technologies. So it’s worth explaining where Microsoft 365 Business Voice comes in, especially since Microsoft Azure also touts Azure Communications Services (ACS), which provides many of the same voice capabilities as Teams with Microsoft 365 Business Voice. Of course, there are still some Skype for Business instances floating around, despite Microsoft’s announcement that Teams will soon replace Skype for business users.
The short explanation for Microsoft 365 Business Voice vs. ACS is that Business Voice is a user-facing application that provides voice capability to Microsoft Teams subscribers. In contrast, ACS is a set of Azure voice and collaboration services aimed at application developers who have standardized the Azure stack and want to integrate those technologies into their apps. ACS is primarily aimed at a help desk and similar menu-driven speech applications, despite being based on some of the same Microsoft core technologies. That implies it’s geared toward developers working on communication scenarios such as app-to-app, browser-to-app, and browser-to-browser. It also works with Azure Bot Service, which is the company’s intelligent chatbot service. As a result, a typical ACS app for service desks or sales departments might be an intelligent IVR or chat experience.
On the other hand, Business Voice is a set of user-facing VoIP features that are fully integrated into Microsoft Teams, effectively converting Teams into a cloud PBX for small businesses. However, through its Teams Displays, Microsoft is expanding Business Voice’s capabilities in a different path than some of the other participants in this roundup, especially now that Teams has added support for a SIP gateway.
Microsoft said in early 2021 that the Microsoft Teams public preview would include a complete SIP gateway. Straight telephony capabilities such as call transfer, device-based do not disturb, and inbound and outbound calls over SIP-compliant hardware, such as desk handsets, would become more manageable. Microsoft mentioned certain handsets that would support its gateway at the launch, including Cisco IP phones with a multi-platform software, Polycom’s CCX series, and Yealink’s T20-T50 series. The adoption of SIP will also help Microsoft Teams displays improve their capabilities.
Lenovo ThinksSmart View is one of Lenovo’s Team Displays, smart speakers designed exclusively for Microsoft Teams and intended for business PCs. They’re essentially speakerphones with a full-color touch display that can be used for voice and video calling and virtual meetings. They also feature voice control for Cortana, so users can ask inquiries like, “Cortana, what is the weather forecast for today?”
Microsoft 365 Business VoIP, on the other hand, is designed solely to provide voice capabilities to Teams users via the Teams app interface, which is what we’ve tried here. Once it’s out of the Public Preview, the Microsoft SIP gateway will expand Business Voice to a growing list of suitable gear, allowing Teams to compete more effectively with full-fledged cloud PBXes. However, we could not test the preview version with the SIP gateway because it was unavailable at the time of this evaluation.
User Interface of the Microsoft Teams Phone System
The Microsoft Teams UI is available on all platforms and is exceptionally simple to use, especially for companies who already use Teams as their primary collaboration tool.
Some planning is necessary for people who are new to Teams to ensure that they get off to a good start. Before installing, conduct a thorough audit of your company’s personnel and the various departments, roles, and teams. This will make setting up user groups much more straightforward. An administrator, for example, can set up a telephone hunter group to call all sales lines if a sales agent’s phone isn’t picked up after a given number of rings by grouping individual sales personnel into a group.
While Microsoft Teams has apps for iOS and Android, there is no obligation for users to download the Microsoft Teams app if call forwarding is set on the system.
The system takes advantage of Microsoft’s Global Delivery Network, allowing it to be deployed to businesses of any size and scaled up with minimal downtime. Furthermore, because Microsoft upgrades its features regularly, users will always access the most recent version and releases at no additional cost.
User Experience using Microsoft Teams
Despite the lack of SIP support, Microsoft 365 Business Voice benefits significantly from its Teams collaboration. Teams have attracted a lot of attention recently due to several firms allowing work-from-home settings during the pandemic. Many firms’ inter-office communications backbone has become Teams and comparable platforms like Slack, so using that foundation for voice makes far more sense than when everyone worked in a centralized office area.
It’s a no-brainer for existing Teams users to add the Microsoft 365 Business Voice option. If you’ve used Teams for any length of time, it just feels natural. However, Microsoft Teams might still support several VoIP handsets and hardware devices without SIP, with fewer functionalities. We tested it using the Yealink UH36 USB Wired Headset and found it more than sufficient. Even on a non-segmented network, calls made through Teams with this headset remained crisp and clear.
Having immediate access to your contact list from Microsoft Outlook promotes convenience and efficiency when interacting with someone outside your company. A call or Teams conference may be started with only one click. You have a variety of communication choices for connections within your firm. If you only need to send a quick chat message to a coworker, the presence indication saves you time.
From your phone or tablet, the Microsoft Teams mobile client accomplishes everything the desktop client does. We put teams through their paces on an Android phone and an iPad Pro running Apple’s iOS. Both experiences were well-designed for these operating systems, and while they didn’t have all of the features of the desktop client, they delivered what you’d expect from a mobile platform in a consistent manner across operating systems. The key here is to carry on with your work communications on a personal device, which Microsoft 365 Business Voice makes feasible.
System Administration for Microsoft 365 Business Voice
The admin.teams.microsoft.com website handles all administrative tasks. You can access all of the features administrators need from the administration page, including control over who may access specific features, reporting, and user management. These capabilities also don’t have to be controlled on a per-user basis. Administrators may manage security features and user access through policies targeted at specific user groups, thanks to Microsoft’s Active Directory experience. They can be structured around nearly anything, including job title, geographic area, and even device kind. Policies can also be used to offer control over meeting rooms, live events, and conference bridges.
Answering a series of questions to determine the default actions for each function is the first step in creating a call attendant. This includes determining how each call will be answered and managed by prescribing a call flow. This could be as simple as playing a music file or sending a specific message. It also covers creating a menu of options that allows the caller to assist in routing their call to the appropriate resource. Unfortunately, setting business hours is considerably more time-consuming than most of the other programs we looked at, particularly ones that stress ease of use, such as Freshcaller. This is because you must set the start and end hours for each day of the week separately.
The usual call use and call quality data you need to measure the functioning of a VoIP system are included in reporting capabilities. The Call Quality Dashboard is a separate section of the Teams administrative function that provides basic default reports and builds custom reports. The Microsoft Call Quality Connector provides links to Microsoft’s Power BI platform, allowing you to go deeper into your organization’s speech data metrics than most other solutions in this review.
Key Features of the Microsoft Teams Phone System
Call queues, call forwarding, voicemail, transferring, auto attendants that may be customized for office hours, out-of-office hours, and holidays, call parking, call blocking, group call pickups and call delegation are all available through the Microsoft Teams Phone System.
Presence is a key component of Microsoft Teams. Presence displays a user’s current availability in real-time, providing a quick visual indicator before parking or transferring calls to colleagues.
Functionality for sophisticated calling needs, such as those required by a call center, is one capability that the system lacks. More sophisticated hunting groups or ring settings than the three default call distribution options are not possible.
There is no built-in call recording feature, and while there are workarounds, there are currently no third-party apps that can do it.
There is presently no interface between the phone system and any CRM platforms for firms that employ a customer relationship management system (CRM). This implies that no platform, even Microsoft’s own CRM software, Dynamics, can automatically log incoming or exiting calls.
While Microsoft 365 has reporting capabilities, it primarily focuses on call quality and allows organizations to address any difficulties with the system’s devices. Many granular statistics used as critical performance indicators, such as ring times, are not accessible to users.
Other Features of the Microsoft Teams Phone System
Microsoft Teams offers a vast range of applications that interface with it, as you might anticipate. While most of them are not yet voice-related, this will change as more developers build third-party apps around ACS.
When looking at different VoIP providers, you’ll notice that most have some Microsoft 365 connectivity. That puts some pressure on Microsoft to ensure that its solution integrates and is possible with its product, and it appears that the corporation has worked hard to achieve that goal. Teams entirely support other Atlassian and Salesforce products. They also offer tools for evaluating specific types of voice workloads and making recommendations for deployment and implementation.
Support for Microsoft Teams Phone System
The Microsoft 365 website includes a comprehensive support section with videos, blogs, and papers to assist users in getting the most out of the platform.
Microsoft does not provide live assistance 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A ticket must be created for any issues that arise, and contact times can take up to a few hours. The assistance quality varies, with some problems being answered fast and others requiring many requests to be resolved.
Security of the Microsoft Teams Phone System
Additional security tools, such as Microsoft Advanced Threat Analytics, are standard with the E3 and E5 plans. Advanced security, compliance, and analytical capabilities are all part of this package.
Microsoft encrypts all data in its possession, both at rest and in transit, and all audio and video delivered through Teams are delivered using SRTP.
Following the discovery of several vulnerabilities in Microsoft Teams in 2020, questions about its security have been raised. Furthermore, Microsoft security can be complicated, as some businesses require multiple licenses and add-ons to achieve compliance.
But It’s Not for Everyone
All of this is to say that Microsoft 365 Business Voice is not a solution for everyone. This first version of the solution primarily targets general-purpose VoIP for smaller businesses already invested in Microsoft Teams. This solution is ideal for those businesses and is a no-brainer to adopt.
Companies searching for a sales or support-oriented solution with features like call parking, large-scale operator management, or similar call center-style capabilities will have to find workarounds because sophisticated versions of these functions aren’t yet included in the solution. While the planned SIP gateway and the availability of more third-party ACS apps may change this in the future, Business Voice is unlikely to be considered for large-scale VoIP deployments.
On the plus side, Microsoft has done an excellent job integrating teams and Business Voice with the rest of its services. It has access to the extended family of Microsoft productivity technologies, including Power BI and the various Microsoft development environments, particularly ACS, in addition to the core programs of Microsoft 365, such as Outlook and Word. That means you’ll have many more options and tools with your own customized instance of Microsoft 365 Business Voice than you will with most VoIP competitors.
This platform offers excellent customization capabilities over a full, general-purpose VoIP service that’s easy to adopt out of the box if you’re ready to put in some substantial effort. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, there’s a good chance a Microsoft partner will, or that what you’re looking for is already available as a value-add product. However, if you’re seeking a large-scale communications solution that you can use right away, Microsoft 365 Business Voice isn’t the solution for you.
Pros & Cons of Microsoft 365 Business Voice
Pros & Cons of Microsoft 365 Business Voice
- Mobility – All you need is an internet connection to access your phone system from anywhere on any device.
- It’s less expensive than a standard VoIP phone service – A VoIP phone system typically costs between $25 and $40 per month per user.
- Integrate seamlessly with the communication and collaboration platforms you already use daily – With entire history and continuity, as well as easy on-screen management and control, move from an instant messaging chat to a voice call to a video conference.
- The convenience of the cloud – There’s no need to manage a phone system, and there’s no need to be tied to a specific site, office, or location.
- There’s no need to manage or license any additional software – Business Voice is a subscription-based add-on to your Microsoft 365 membership.
- Device flexibility – You can use practically any computer headset, camera, microphone, and speaker set you desire, or you can use Microsoft Teams-compatible telephone desk sets that work exactly like a typical high-feature desktop phone.
- The quality of service is determined by internet connection – The quality of your calls, as with all VoIP phone options, is defined by your internet connection. You’ll almost certainly get lousy service if you try to work somewhere with low internet connectivity.
- Designed for everyday use – As previously stated, if your company has specific or sophisticated phone demands, Business Voice may not be the best answer.
- User capacity is limited – Business Voice’s plans are limited to 300 users, making it unsuitable for larger enterprises.
Competitions of the Microsoft Teams Phone System
Numerous cloud-based VoIP systems are worthy of consideration as alternatives to Microsoft Teams Phone System. RingCentral Office is the exact pricing per user as Zendesk and Salesforce. Still, it includes more call center features, like automatic call recording, CRM connectivity for key platforms like Zendesk and Salesforce, and live help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It also can work with Microsoft Teams.
The Bottom Line
The ease of transitioning from Microsoft Teams to the VoIP option is a massive bonus for those who already use it. It’s also great for organizations wishing to scale up in the future, as extra user licenses can be purchased in a matter of minutes.
However, the system has limitations and is not suitable for organizations that require more complex phone arrangements. Furthermore, if your company uses many phones, the expense of obtaining licenses and call plans can soon add up. Microsoft’s lack of 24/7 assistance is also a worry when it comes to troubleshooting and potential downtime. Businesses that require system assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can do so through a third-party provider.
Microsoft 365 Business Voice is a no-brainer method to provide powerful SMB VoIP capability across both desktop and mobile devices for firms with roughly 300 employees and a concentration on Microsoft Teams.
Microsoft 365 Business Voice Review
Microsoft 365 Business Voice is available as an optional add-on plan or as an incorporated feature with certain bundles. When you sign up for a Microsoft voice service, Microsoft takes over as your phone system, phone line provider, and long-distance provider, reducing or eliminating the need for other auxiliary systems, complications, and expenses.
On paper, Microsoft Teams appears to have everything a business might want in a team collaboration tool. In truth, using it isn’t that pleasant, and it might be much better.
Microsoft Teams enables your team (or multiple teams) to collaborate on a single platform. You may speak with anyone in real-time. The chat part is well-designed, and you may personalize your messages just as in an email. You can also upload and exchange files with others. You have a calendar that functions similarly to Google Calendar. However, if you use Outlook for email, it’s the most incredible tool for creating events and meetings. You can have one or more individuals on a team call. It performs admirably, with all of the features you’d expect from a video conferencing program. Overall, if your firm uses Microsoft Office extensively, Microsoft Teams is the natural add-on solution for team collaboration, cohesion, and productivity.
The primary issue with the interface is that it is not very smooth and might be confusing at times. It’s almost as though there’s too much going on. Also perplexing is the file-sharing portion. It’s pretty similar to how PC files are stored, and it appears to be counterproductive in this case. It’s not as convenient if you’re not used to working with Microsoft Office. The platform seems to consume significant bandwidth and CPU, resulting in a delayed collaborative experience. Overall, Teams could be made a lot easier to use by removing all extraneous features and making the platform much more straightforward.