When Microsoft first announced Operator Connect six months ago, I was both impressed and concerned. I was impressed at their vision for how easy it could be to set up SIP trunks with a service provider of your choice within Teams. But I was also very concerned that they would cherry pick a few large national service providers, and that Direct Routing would be a very poor consolation for anyone left out of the beautiful, simple, Operator Connect ecosystem.
I speculated that best case scenario was that Microsoft would make an announcement like this:
“This is the experience we want our business customers to have, and these are the technical and legal requirements you need to meet in order to provide that experience. If you can meet these requirements, we’ll include you in Operator Connect.”
Microsoft requirements for Operator Connect
As it turned out, they did almost exactly that. Here’s some text from the Operator Connect page for partners:
“Start your journey toward Operator Connect today, by nominating your organization. To be eligible for Operator Connect enrollment, you must meet the following eligibility criteria:
- Must be a regulated and/or licensed operator capable of providing phone numbers and PSTN services
- Must have two individuals with Microsoft 365 Certified: Teams Administrator Associate
- Must be able to provide Tier 1 customer support
- Must meet the requirements related to interconnection, architecture, and integration (to be shared upon onboarding)
Submit the nomination form to have our team contact you with more information after general availability in Q3 of calendar year 2021. When you’re approved for Operator Connect enrollment, additional program requirements will apply prior to entering the market.”
There’s obviously some kind of approval process, but fundamentally Microsoft are publishing the requirements and if you meet them, it sounds like you can be included in the Operator Connect family.
Metaswitch Managed SBC for Operator Connect
I was tempted to subtitle this section “But wait! There’s more”, in the style of every infomercial ever. But really, if the above news wasn’t good enough, Metaswitch simultaneously announced a new service: Managed SBC for Operator Connect – which is designed to make it very easy for service providers to meet the technical requirements of the program (the last bullet in the list above).
Here’s how it works:
- Metaswitch professional services will deploy a Perimeta SBC deployment in Azure
- This will be in your own Azure cloud tenant – so you would own the Azure instances, but Metaswitch would deploy Perimeta on your behalf.
- Metaswitch’s “virtual NOC” would also manage and monitor the SBC for you, including any upgrades.
- They’ll also handle the API integrations required to handle number provisioning etc in Teams.
- This is a managed service, so it’s an OpEx financial model (pay monthly forever) rather than CapEx (make a big, one-time purchase).
Of course, the whole point is that this new managed SBC integrates with your own network and your own PSTN connectivity, so the Managed SBC from Metaswitch would (presumably) have a SIP trunk back to your SBC/switch (in your own network) for PSTN connectivity (or calls to your on-switch subscribers).
The diagram below is from the Microsoft 365 Operator’s Guide, showing the overall architecture for Teams, and if you used the Managed SBC for Operator Connect service, the “Certified Session Border Controller(s)” box near the bottom right would be managed by Metaswitch and also hosted in Azure. The green dotted line below it would then be a SIP trunk to your network which is represented by the “PSTN” box.
Teams Integration Options for Operators
As you can tell, I’m strongly in favor of this new offering – provided the execution lives up to the vision, and the pricing is reasonable – but this isn’t your only option.
Let’s recap how a service provider can work with businesses who use Teams – just so you can quickly see your options.
- Use a 3rd party Teams integration application (like TeamMate or Call2Teams). The core benefit of these applications was that they simplified the integration and allowed you to test the waters at a small scale. Operator Connect promises to solve the complexity problem, so the market for these applications may be declining.
- Implement Direct Routing on your own SBC. This still works from a technical perspective (and I know a good number of service providers have done it), but from a marketing perspective I worry that it’ll be harder to compete if you’re not part of Operator Connect.
- Operator Connect on your own SBC. If you already have an SBC that supports Direct Routing, and if you can meet the other requirements of Operator Connect, you can apply directly to Microsoft to be part of Operator Connect. I imagine there’s a fair bit of complexity to meet all the requirements listed above (API integration for provisioning, for example), but this is probably also the most cost-effective option for large scale deployments.
- Managed SBC for Operator Connect. This is designed to be the simplest way for a carrier to be part of Operator Connect, and there’s a lot of value in that simplicity. You’ll give up some margin as a result, but your time-to-market will be much improved, and you’ll be able to rely on Metaswitch’s support of the service, which is presumably well-integrated with Microsoft’s support of Teams.
To learn more about all these announcements be sure to check out this description of Operator Connect targeted at service providers and Metaswitch’s description of their new managed service.