Deciding Between Direct Routing, Calling Plans, and Operator Connect
Microsoft offers multiple ways to connect Teams to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) to make in and outbound calls.
A third option exists… a variant of direct routing called Operator Connect (described below).
While it’s strategic to identify an approach at the outset of any Teams telephony project, a single organization can use more than one option. In fact, for global organizations, some Direct Routing is necessary since Calling Plans are only available from Microsoft in 30+ countries.
When considering the decision between Direct Routing and using Microsoft Calling Plans, three general categories come into play.
Dollars and cents make this decision obvious for many organizations. The evaluation is simple – compare the current telecom costs to the additional cost of Calling Plans. Here’s some quick math.
Each user would need a Calling Plan. There is a $6/user/mo plan that provides 120 minutes of outbound domestic calling, or a $12/user/mo plan that provides 3,000 minutes outbound. For users who frequently make international calls, there is a prepaid plan available for an additional $12/mo, infrequent international calls are billed as incurred. Inbound calls cost nothing. The outbound minutes are pooled amongst users in the same calling plan. For more details about the variable costs of Calling Plans, see below.
Here are a couple representative cost samples:
A site with about 380 users had a current telecom bill of around $3,000/mo for SIP trunks. To move those 380 users to Microsoft calling plans would cost anywhere between 380 * $6 ($2,280) to 380 * $12 ($4,560), depending on the number of minutes required ($6/mo for 120 outbound minutes/user, $12/mo for 3,000 minutes/user). Direct Routing seems to make sense financially.
Another site with about 322 users had a current telecom bill of around $5,000/mo for SIP trunks. The range of Calling Plan costs there would be between 322 * $6 ($1,932) to 322 * $12 ($3,864), depending on the number of minutes required. This site has a reportedly large number of inbound toll-free costs, which would need to be factored in, but on the surface, Calling Plans seem like an economic choice here.
Neither example includes additional costs of toll-free nor international calls.
Additional variable costs:
To complete the round numbers given above, consider the additional variable costs of both options:
A few additional variable costs exist with Direct Routing:
Subtle gray areas that also influence the cost decision include IT staffing capabilities, preferences for capital expenses vs operating expenses, and other subtleties.
Third-party Contact Center solutions (beyond call-queues and auto-attendants) would cost extra for either Calling Plans and Direct Routing.
Operator Connect (described below) removes much of this overhead for the organization’s IT staff.
In general, traditional brick and mortar locations with traditional telecom needs are better suited for Direct Routing, where information-worker centric locations are a good fit for Calling Plans.
When a physical Session Border Controller is deployed in a Direct Routing scenario, that appliance can be a Swiss Army knife of sorts. It can terminate analog phone lines and bring them into Teams Calling Plans. This allows alarm systems, overhead paging systems, and door entry buzzers to connect. This is not possible when using virtual machines or if the SBC is in Azure. If an existing PBX needs to be integrated for a transition or long-term, an SBC can connect to it via SIP (or even a TDM PRI).
A short-term concern of Calling Plans is porting phone numbers. From Enabling’s experience, this process is much less onerous than in the past, with most orders to port being complete within 1-6 weeks. For organizations who prefer not to port their numbers nor change their local telephone service provider, Direct Routing to a Session Border Controller at each site allows them to keep that model. However, this increases the administrative overhead outlined in Section 2.
Last but not least, the distribution of the users will impact the decision. On large campuses, where many users work on-premises, a Session Border Controller onsite makes sense. For organizations with a distributed or work-from-home footprint, Calling Plans are more efficient, since having voice traverse the Internet or VPN just to get back to an office location to access the PSTN adds delay and risk compared to connecting to Microsoft’s well-connected cloud services.
Operator Connect Offers a Third Option
In the Operator Connect model, organizations pay a telecom service provider (AKA “Operator”) to host the PSTN trunks and the Session Border Controller. This keeps the SBC and trunking off-premises, and appears to the organization to operate like a Calling Plan model, except instead of paying Microsoft $6-12/user/month for their Calling Plans, they pay the telecom an additional per user (or per active trunk) cost per month.
Customers ideally suited for Operator Connect will mainly be those with existing relationships w/ the large providers. But we’ve seen organizations looking for new telecom providers. One of Enabling’s Operator Connect partners has priced their services on a per active trunk basis, rather than a per user per month basis. This game-changing model can significantly lower the Phone System TCO, especially in low-usage scenarios. Watch this interview about why one eGroup | Enabling Technologies customer decided on Operator Connect in our case study or directly here at https://www.egroup-us.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Herrick6.mp4.
The Teams architecture is built for flexibility in all situations. A sensible approach is to use Calling Plans where you can, Direct Routing where you must. It’s been challenging for large organizations to neatly fit into a 100% Calling Plan model due to:
Finally, with Direct Routing, large organizations are tending to deploy SBCs in centralized locations. When absolutely necessary, the option does exist to support hardware and trunking in specific offices when needed (i.e. in a third-world country where #s cannot be ported to a central data center).
Take a look at the graphic below to help guide you in understanding which Teams Phone PSTN solution is right for you!
Do you still have questions about connecting Teams to the PSTN?
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