Partners Back Microsoft Teams with Advanced Communications and Additional Devices

A new Advanced Communications option for organizations using Microsoft Teams is now available and new Teams devices will be coming, Microsoft announced this week.

The Advanced Communications option lets organizations expand Teams meetings and add branding to videoconferences. Customer engagement also can be added via partner efforts. The Advanced Communications add-on is currently available for purchase and "can be added to any Microsoft 365 or Office 365 paid subscription," according to a Microsoft spokesperson via e-mail. It's priced at "$12 per user/per month." There's also a free trial that's available.

Currently, the Advanced Communications online buying process is offered through a link at this Teams marketing page. It'll direct the prospective buyer to fill out a form.

On top of the Advanced Communications offering, Microsoft described a Teams Calling feature and announced that new Teams conferencing devices from hardware partners will be coming.

Scaled-Up Meetings
Advanced Communications offers a number of features for organizations, which were briefly described in Microsoft's announcement.

One of the more notable features is support for very large meetings. Teams meetings can reach up to 20,000 participants for organizations using the Advanced Communications option. There's just one catch in that a so-called "view only" mode will kick in when a meeting exceeds 1,000 participants.

Here's how the spokesperson explained view-only mode:

Above 1,000 participants and below 20,000 this is a "view only" experience: these participants are muted, have no video and no chat.

Last month, Microsoft had indicated in its Microsoft 365 roadmap page that videoconferencing support for up to 1,000 attendees in Teams, called "Large Meeting Support," would reach "general availability" commercial release in Q4 of this year. But apparently organizations can purchase the Advanced Communications option today and get support for up to 20,000 attendees.

Partner Help on Compliance and Workflow Engagement
The announcement briefly described two Advanced Communications capabilities that appear to require the support of the Microsoft partner community. Partners can help set up a "compliance recording policy." Also, there's partner support for "bringing in collaboration to your customer engagement workflows."

Apparently, organizations with the Advanced Communications Teams option can use APIs to enhance the service, such as the use of the presence API that tells whether a person is available. These so-called "workflow engagement" enhancements can be added to improve collaborations with customers.

Here's how the spokesperson explained it:

Organizations connect with customers over traditional voice and chat every day. Integrating Teams with these existing customer engagement workflows and extending them with collaboration tools such as presence, video, screensharing, and other Teams tools available through the Teams Platform can dramatically improve the overall interaction and customer satisfaction.  

Partners that can help with these workflow API integrations in Teams include Anywhere365, ComputerTalk, EngHouse Interactive, Five9, Genesys, Landis Technologies, Luware, Nice inContact and Trendfor, according to the spokesperson.

Branded Meetings
Some Advanced Communications capabilities are yet to come. One of them is a "branded meeting lobby" capability, which will be "launching in the coming months." Sometime later, Advanced Communications users will get the ability to "extend your branding to the core meeting experience," the announcement indicated.

It's already possible for individual end users to upload custom backgrounds during Teams videoconferencing sessions. The branding capabilities in the Advanced Communications plan, though, are more general and they get controlled by the IT department.

Here's how the spokesperson described it:

With Advanced Communications new features (coming soon), the IT admin will be able to set custom backgrounds specific to the organization. In addition, branded meeting lobby will enable the customer to add their logo to the top left corner of the meetings' pre-join screen. We plan to add additional customization features in the future.

New Teams Devices Coming
Microsoft also highlighted coming hardware devices from partners for use with Teams conferences.

Coming later this year in the U.S. market will be new Microsoft Teams Display devices being built by Lenovo (with its ThinkSmart View device) and Yealink. A Microsoft Teams Display device is a dedicated device with "an ambient touch screen, high-quality calling and video, and a hands-free experience powered by Cortana," the announcement explained.

Teams Display devices were described last month as "an evolution" of IP desk phones, offering good audio and video performance, per a comment by Ilya Bukshteyn, a partner director for Microsoft Teams Devices at Microsoft.

Heavy Teams users will be able to buy so-called "USB phones" with a Teams button that connect to a PC or Mac. The USB phones will be "available in late 2020." Yealink is expected to be the first to bring these USB Teams phones to market.

New Microsoft Teams phones for common areas and information workers will be arriving from AudioCodes, Poly and Yealink, "starting in early 2021." These Teams phones have "physical buttons, high-quality audio and core calling features at an affordable price," the announcement indicated.

Legacy Phone and SIP Support
Not everyone can buy new Teams phones. In recognition of that limitation, Microsoft announced a new general end-of-extended-support date for some existing Skype for Business phones.

"Today, we are announcing extended support for Skype for Business (3PIP) phones beyond 2023, so you can continue to use your existing Skype for Business phones as you move to Teams," the announcement indicated.

The 3PIP acronym refers to the Microsoft "Partner IP Phone Program," as described in this Microsoft document. At press time, the document, dated May 13, didn't show the extended support date for Skype for Business phones.

Microsoft also plans to add support next year for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)-based phones used with Teams, per the announcement:

Additionally, we will be supporting core calling features on SIP phones from Cisco, Yealink, Polycom, and others with Teams. Support for SIP phones will be available in the first half of 2021.

These SIP phones will lack advanced Teams features, but SIP support is still a big deal, according to Tom Arbuthnot, a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional, in a blog post.

"This [SIP support] is a big change," he wrote. "Previously only specific Microsoft Teams Phones were supported and Skype for Business (3PIP) phones."

Teams Calling Capability
There's a Teams Calling capability that's built into Microsoft Teams, available in some markets. While the announcement described it as being currently available for quick deployment, it's apparently not really new, not associated with the Advanced Communications offering, and is similar to the existing Calling Plans capability.

Here's how the spokesperson clarified the matter:

Teams Calling capabilities are included in the Calling Plans. These are not different. Teams Calling is built into teams and you can make VOIP calls (within your organization) out of the box. Calling Plans are tied to making and receiving calls outside your organization and give you calling minutes. They are available in select markets.

Microsoft also offers a Phone System add-on for Teams, which works with public switched telephone network connections:

For calling outside your company, you need to purchase the Phone System add on (or if you have E5 it's included). From there you can work with a partner/Telco for direct routing or purchase a MS calling plan where available.

All of these Teams additions aren't new. Possibly, Teams Calling is a rebrand of Calling Plans or represents some sort of Teams version.