This week Microsoft announced a new tier in the Microsoft Teams hierarchy. Previously we had Teams Calling Plans (calling through Microsoft) and Direct Routing (choose your own carrier), but soon there will be a third option Operator Connect for Microsoft Teams.
However, to describe it as the third option is misleading, because this clearly sits in the middle of the hierarchy as presented to businesses – think of it like this.
- Teams Calling Plans are very easy to use, you just pay Microsoft an extra fee and all your calls will route via Microsoft (powered by Bandwidth) to the PSTN.
- Operator Connect allows you to select from a menu of service providers that Microsoft has partnered with for a “fully managed and integrated experience” with “shared tech support” and “quality SLAs”. They’ve announced 12 worldwide service providers so far, including Verizon, Intrado, Rogers and BT.
- Direct Routing is the DIY option.
How is Operator Connect different?
Fundamentally I think this is all about the user experience. From the Microsoft announcement it sounds like the goal is to make the process of setting up a calling plan with the selected Operator Connect service providers almost as easy as using a Teams Calling Plan.
Within your Microsoft Teams admin center, there’s a page where you can browse the available operators, select the one you want to use, and manage the phone numbers they’ve provided.
Whereas Direct Routing allowed for the enterprise to have a local enterprise SBC, with Operator Connect the service provider is required to host the SBC (which is how anyone with a Perimeta was going to do it anyway) – which fits with the goal of making it easy for the enterprise.
Does it work?
So far this is just an announcement of future plans. “This is just the beginning of the Operator Connect journey” wrote Mike Wilkinson of Metaswitch – so right now I don’t think anything is available.
The demos that you can see in this video (start around the 6:10 mark) simply show you requesting the service provider to call you – which is a very basic level of integration – however I have to assume that the goal is to make this entirely self-serve. With some API integration why couldn’t you order phone numbers and get your SIP trunk working without any human interaction between the enterprise administrator and the operator?
Is this the death blow for Direct Routing?
No, but it’s also hard to see this as great news for operators who aren’t on the Operator Connect list.
The whole reason Microsoft have created this program is to make it easier for businesses to use carrier SIP trunks for their PSTN connectivity.
- On the one hand this is good – they could have focused all their efforts on selling Teams Calling Plans and ignored the carriers. They are clearly making efforts to partner with major carriers (as promised in their Azure for Operators material).
- But if it has become easier for businesss to select from the “chosen” carriers – who are part of the Operator Connect program – then that clearly makes it less likely that businesses will choose other options.
Will Operator Connect be an exclusive club?
From a strategy point of view, this is the most important question.
If Microsoft choose only to work with Tier 1 carriers that will undoubtedly hurt smaller carriers. But that’s not the only path they could take.
Theoretically, Microsoft could 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.”
If they can automate this process – this set of hoops – then maybe it will be self-serve on the carrier side, and we’ll end up with hundreds or thousands of carriers worldwide. But if they need to perform custom integration (or even custom legal) work with each service provider, then the list is going to be much shorter.
Final thoughts for smaller telcos?
Let’s keep this short:
- In an ideal world, Microsoft will make Operator Connect open to anyone who meets the requirements – and owning a Perimeta SBC is likely to get you part way there.
- Failing that, as long as you’ve implemented Direct Routing, you can still rely on your strong customer relationships to sell your service to your local businesses. You just need to make sure that you’re involved in the conversation – and they don’t sign up with another provider without even talking to you.
If you think I’ve gotten the wrong idea feel free to reach out and let me know your thoughts – I’d love to hear from you.