How to Navigate Cloud Phone Management for Your Enterprise

Written by: Matt Norton

Updated: 11/23/2021

What do we do with our enterprise phone systems in the future of remote and hybrid work?

Almost every company connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) has had to ask this question in the past 18 months. Those who haven’t asked, should.

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft and Zoom are at center stage as leads in a cast of innovative telecom and collaboration solutions. According to Metrigy, these platforms are the two most used meeting apps in both organizations who use multiple apps and those who only use a single app, by a wide margin. Their reach continues to strengthen and grow, expanding far beyond just conferencing. Metrigy reports that 60.7% of firms using Unified-Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) providers other than Microsoft still use Microsoft Teams for messaging and 12.2% plan to move to a Teams Phone system in the near future. Calling licenses, audio, video, and web conferencing are on their way to becoming all-in-one offerings as the lines blur between legacy communication and future collaboration.

For companies looking to optimize their phone management systems, only a few approaches exist, with Zoom and Microsoft mirroring each other closely. Which is right for your organization as we enter this new era of remote and hybrid work?

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Calling Plans

As one option, both Microsoft Teams Phone and Zoom Phone have their own Calling Plan options through their platforms. Through Calling Plans, the respective UC company becomes your organization’s provider and replaces any traditional private branch exchange (PBX) previously in place. For Teams, enterprises can choose between Domestic Plans or Domestic and International Plans, both of which include phone numbers, PSTN connectivity, and a bundle of minutes. Zoom Phone provides Pay-As-You-Go and Unlimited Regional plans for the U.S. & Canada as well as a Pro Global Select option. For companies that are implementing a cloud phone plan for the first time or who are looking for the top-tier security, service, and support that Microsoft and Zoom can offer, Calling Plans can be a good fit.

Although Microsoft has been historically slow to expand its Calling Plan availability geographically, the list of supported regions is growing – currently at 30. In comparison, Zoom Phone provides local service in over 45 countries & territories. Despite Microsoft’s plans to extend geographic capability, large gaps clearly remain.

Of the various cloud phone options available through Microsoft, Teams Calling Plan is not its most popular. According to Metrigy, only 28.6% of organizations who are using Teams utilize Teams Calling Plans for their cloud phone. Data suggests that the reason may be two-fold: 1) Most enterprises are more interested in converting their legacy phone systems to Teams; and 2) Calling Plans are more restrictive and expensive than other cloud phone options – quite often enterprises prefer to stick with their existing carriers with whom they have already negotiated deep calling plan discounts.

Keep Your Carrier

Both Microsoft and Zoom provide options to allow your enterprise to keep an existing telephony carrier while migrating to Microsoft or Zoom cloud phone solutions. Microsoft’s two offerings are called Operator Connect and Direct Routing. Zoom calls its cloud phone plan “BYOC” or “Bring Your Own Carrier.”

Operator Connect is a new (as of 2021) option from Microsoft that provides connectivity between PSTN and Teams, allowing your company to “bring your own operator” while migrating to the Teams platform. It is accessible through the Teams Admin Center, where admins can connect to their operator in just a few minutes and seamlessly assign phone numbers to users. Operator Connect allows your enterprise the flexibility to bring in another telephony provider and can even transfer over an existing contract with this provider.

The operator then functions as the mediator between Teams and PSTN on your organization’s behalf. This includes both the infrastructure for PSTN and the Session Border Controllers (SBCs), so your company doesn’t have to manage any on-prem hardware.

This option might work for your organization depending on two conditions:

  1. First, your operator must be a participant in the program. As of publication, participating providers include BT, Deutsche Telekom, Intrado, NTT, Nuwave, Orange Business Services, Pure IP, Rogers, Swisscom, TATA, Telenor, and Verizon.
  2. Second, your geographic location must lie outside the possibility of a Teams Calling Plan.

Enterprises seem rather undecided about Operator Connect, with only 16.7% definitely planning to deploy when available. However, a full two-thirds (66.7%) of companies are either currently evaluating or planning to evaluate as it becomes more available.

Direct Routing is the longest-standing, most common, and most preferred method for connecting with PSTN within Teams. With Direct Routing, organizations connect a customer-provided SBC to the Teams Phone system. This allows your company to interface with virtually any third-party PSTN equipment or telephony trunk and provides options to configure third-party PBX or analog devices.

Although it does require specific licenses and self-deployment, Direct Routing dominates as the leading cloud phone option for the Teams Phone system. Metrigy reports that a total of 51.7% of Teams Phone users utilize Direct Routing, either through a global, regional, or managed service provider. Half of these users report that they chose it because of its flexibility to manage phone numbers and its significant cost savings. For companies who have a current PSTN set up and want to connect it to Teams Phone, Direct Routing is tried and true.

With Zoom Phone, BYOC follows the same approach as Direct Routing by allowing your organization to migrate to the cloud while still maintaining PSTN connectivity through your own carrier. Phone numbers, service contracts, and calling rates can all be preserved as your enterprise transitions to Zoom Phone. Once implemented, Zoom Phone will keep the dial tone from the existing carrier in order to reduce the risk of service interruption and to provide less friction when porting large volumes of numbers.

This option doesn’t have geographical constraints so any multinational company can use Zoom Phone, regardless of Zoom’s native service presence there. BYOC comes in two flavors – Premise Peering and Cloud Peering.

Premise Peering redirects SIP trunks from an enterprise’s datacenter through an SBC to the Zoom Phone cloud PBX over the internet. Any PSTN carrier is supported and is available globally. In Cloud Peering, Zoom Phone will establish a SIP trunk with the PSTN carrier over cloud-to-cloud, direct network connections. This model of BYOC eases the need for any SBC hardware and means higher reliability however, it is only available for a certain number of cloud PSTN carriers.

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Which Cloud Phone is Right for My Enterprise?

When considering the switch from a traditional phone system to cloud phone, keep in mind the following:

  • Zoom and Microsoft have similar approaches, though different execution and naming. The decision between which to select is usually part of a larger question about which to use for conferencing and collaboration, as well as phone.
  • Calling Plans for either platform eliminate hardware, carrier contracts, and third-party vendors but are usually more expensive and geographically limited.
  • Carrier-keeping options are usually chosen to preserve flexibility and reduce cost – though that might change as both platforms evolve their offerings.

Traditional phone systems are on the way out as cloud phone offers cost savings and easier management for enterprises. For help in determining the right migration strategy and detailed transformation path for your organization, visit our website.

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