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Skype for Business Features Released to Broader Preview

Microsoft on Wednesday broadened the testing pool of some new Skype for Business features and announced some additions.

Microsoft rolled out previews of three Skype for Business features in July that required having Office 365 subscriptions to either the Enterprise plan or the Skype for Business Plan 2. However, some of those previews were limited back then with regard to country participation and languages supported.

Expanded Previews
One of the expanded features is called "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling." It's a PBX replacement cloud solution designed to permit traditional phone calls -- that is, calls made via the public switched telephone network (PSTN) -- to be made and received using the Skype for Business client. This preview was previously only available in the United States, but it now can be tested by organizations using Skype for Business Server worldwide in conjunction with an Office 365 subscription. Microsoft's announcement Wednesday noted that having Skype for Business Server on-premises currently is a requirement to use this feature, "but we plan to provide additional options over time." The new Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling feature is expected to hit commercial release worldwide "before the end of this year," according to the announcement.

Microsoft's phone hardware partners have already built some IP phones with support for the Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling feature. It's currently supported in the following phones if they have updated firmware: Polycom CX600, CX3000 and VVX models, the HP 4120 phone, and the Mitel Mivoice 6725 phone. New phone support will be arriving "over the next several months," Microsoft promised.

Another expanded preview is the "PSTN Conferencing" feature for Skype for Business Online, which is Microsoft's cloud version of the product. This PSTN Conferencing feature, which lets people connect to conferences via landline or mobile phones, previously had just been limited to the U.S. market. However, it's now available this month for testing in "Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom." Next month, it'll be available for testing in "Finland, Norway and South Africa." It'll be available commercially in all of those markets "before the end of this year," Microsoft indicated.

Additional Feature Previews
Microsoft added some other preview features to Skype for Business. Its Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling preview feature is getting "number portability," meaning that an organization's existing phone numbers can be used with it. However, that's just being enabled in the U.S. market at present in the preview.

The Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling preview also is getting a "voicemail" capability worldwide. Microsoft's announcement was unclear if the number portability and voicemail additions could be tested now, though.

A new Call Quality Dashboard feature will be added to Skype for Business "later this month," according to Microsoft. This dashboard shows "aggregated quality information for both meetings and calls." IT pros will be able to check call volumes in both daily and monthly views. Call quality can be compared against user location, as well as the "IP network type."

Roadmap
Microsoft's unified communications products include both Skype for Business Server 2015, which was released in May, and its Office 365 offering called "Skype for Business Online." Organizations are typically using the server products now, but Microsoft has been ratcheting up its online product capabilities, with voice improvements expected around year's end. For a discussion along those lines, see this Q&A article with a Microsoft partner.

The preceding server product is called Lync Server 2013. Microsoft is promising that organizations just need to perform an in-place upgrade of Lync Server 2013 to move to Skype for Business Server 2015. Organizations running Lync Server 2010, though, have to follow the old wipe-and-replace approach. For a discussion about those upgrade options, see this recent Microsoft blog post by Skype for Business MVP, Dino Caputo.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.