Unified Comms, Skype for Business, PSTN Calling
The whole telecoms industry has been turned on its head by IP telephony. The idea of finally integrating your voice and data networks feels both long overdue and maybe within reach.Before dismissing this as yet another false dawn, there is some substance to the current developments that mean there is a good chance you will shortly be able to gain the massive benefits that Unified Comms has been promising for a long time…
So what’s going on now?
Update 07.02.2017 - Skype For Business PSTN calling is now available to businesses. However, we have noted that the companies using it are not entirely happy with the way it works from a UI perspective, yet.
Below we highlight recent developments that may show you the way forwards. Spoiler: It’s not quite ready today but maybe, just maybe very soon!
What We Want is Unified Comms in Office 365, When Do We Want it?
Microsoft launched Skype for Business mid 2015. At that time there was a lot of talk about the new voice and meeting capabilities, and there was the chance to see a technical preview if you lived in the US. The new capabilities will enhance the current Skype for Business experience and allow IT Service, and Telecoms providers to offer a complete enterprise grade communications solution as part of Office 365, or the unified comms solution of the future as we see it.
When we visited the UCEXPO in London during the summer www.ucexpo.co.uk this was the holy grail that everyone was reaching for. Unified communications isn't just about telecoms and conferencing it is about having all your data and colleagues connected in a way which is useful for your business, and being able to access the data from a central "control system" e.g. Outlook. As soon as someone invents an advanced algorithm for text to speech during meetings (that works well!) this type of system will be even more powerful. This company seems to be on the right track, www.cloudpipes.com however after requesting a demo I am #47,852 on the waiting list...Well at least I don't feel like a Guinea pig!
New Skype for Business Features Here and Coming...at Some Point
Only available to preview in the U.S. This feature uses the traditional public switched telephone network to allow users who have been invited to a Skype for Business meeting set up in Office 365 to join the meeting by dialling in using a mobile or landline. This is a basic traditional dial-in capability one might expect of a conferencing system. It is in addition to, single touch join options on PC's, smartphones and browsers. So if your technical director is on holiday in Spain again and can't connect to the internet he can still join by phone, ah the joy of technology. Using PSTN Conferencing in Office 365 you will be able to dial out from the system to add other people to the call too, which is neat.
THE DADDY! Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling
only available for preview to Office 365 users in the U.S of A currently. This is the feature set we are most interested in. We want to use Skype for Business to make all our calls, and have the address book linked to Outlook. Everything finally would be in one place, integrated. Unified one could say! And don't worry, when this feature comes out you will still be able to use existing on-premises phone lines for outbound and inbound calls.
Skype Meeting Broadcast Preview (available to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide)
You can use this to publish your Skype for Business meetings on the public internet making it easy for "Joe Blogs" type users to join. The system claims to support up to 10,000 people though we have never had the privilege of testing that! This makes it very easy to host huge virtual meetings like that of a volunteers meeting, town hall, or even a demonstration. This preview includes the use of Bing Pulse, for real-time polling and sentiment tracking, and Yammer.
By whom are these previews delivered?
These previews are delivered by Microsoft strategic partners such as: BT, Level 3 Communications, Orange Business Services, Verizon and Vodafone.
Additionally Microsoft will be delivering a feature enabling direct connections to Office 365's Skype for Business customers using Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365. ExpressRoute helps customers easily create private connections between their premises and Microsoft enabled datacentres. This gives you more predictable network performance (predictable latency). This is a great resource for anyone looking for a manageable network with dedicated connectivity, reliability and additional data security. Then again seeing how easy it is to tap fibre we would still be interested to know how that is monitored.
Microsoft say they are "enabling people to connect with one another across all forms of human expression; verbal, written, visual and emotional". Well fair enough, great if you can get on a trial but for us mere mortals we have been waiting patiently for the PTSN calling and cloud PBX for years. We want it now please, thank you!
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