Compare Microsoft Operator Connect and Direct Routing to choose the best option for your business. Explore their features and benefits.
As of April 2023, Microsoft Teams now has 300 million active monthly users, demonstrating its growing popularity over a year since announcing the milestone of 270 million users at the start of 2022. Having initially started as a messaging-based platform in 2016, it has quickly evolved into a market-leading collaboration service that can ultimately function as a complete Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) solution, as well as a platform for contact centre management. Connecting Teams with the Microsoft Phone System can unlock its full potential as a platform that can seamlessly enable PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) connectivity and revolutionise business communications.
There are various ways to enable calling via the Microsoft Teams platform. Microsoft Calling Plans, for example, offers domestic and international variants for users seeking to use Teams as a platform to make regular phone calls. They work on a per-user, per-month basis, while also giving organisations a route into cloud-based telephony. However, they aren’t as cost-effective as other solutions, and can’t fully satisfy the specific needs and demands for businesses. Flexibility is required when it comes to Microsoft Teams Phone, which is where we can introduce two other solutions; Operator Connect and Direct Routing.
What is Operator Connect?
During Ignite 2021, Microsoft’s annual tech conference, it was announced that Operator Connect would be generally available for businesses to enable a PSTN service for Microsoft Teams Phone. Operator Connect was the latest evolution in Direct Routing, Microsoft’s Bring Your Own Carrier (BYOC) solution, but could now allow PSTN calling from a select group of Microsoft-certified Operators. Both the connectivity and the infrastructure are managed by the telecom provider, using cloud-based technology to make this a viable and extremely useful option.
The benefits of Operator Connect
Manage scalability from the Teams Admin Center
The Teams Admin Center serves as the command post for managing Operator Connect, with users able to connect to their selected provider and assign numbers to users through the ‘Operators’ tab. The accessibility of this dashboard provides a strong benefit to adopting and using Operator Connect. When the workforce expands or inbound call demand increases, new numbers can be added quickly to successfully manage needs efficiently, which is only made easier by everything being handled through a familiar Teams environment. Productivity isn’t sacrificed over connecting new numbers, and operations can be scaled with ease.
Building or maintaining carrier relationships
Whether businesses are already working with a telephony partner or are keen to choose a provider that is reputable and Microsoft-approved, Operator Connect ensures that relationships with carriers can be preserved or forged. Providers that have been selected by Microsoft adhere to the necessary requirements initially established, with these top-level Service Level Agreements (SLAs) successfully met and further ensuring Operator Connect users that the providers that can be selected will provide support when needed.
Cost-effective business continuity
With providers handling your Session Borders Controllers (SBCs) and the cloud negating the need for a wide range of costly on-premises equipment, Operator Connect proves to be a cost-effective option when it comes to Teams calling. Costs are also calculated on a per-usage basis in contrast to one based around the number of users, further demonstrating its cost-effectiveness compared to the legacy phone systems that came before. A cloud-based system also safeguards businesses from any unexpected dilemmas that can disrupt daily operations, with disaster recovery options standing by.
The disadvantages of Operator Connect
The simplicity of Operator Connect means that it cannot meet the more complicated requirements set out by a larger business, with configuration options severely limited and further compounded by a lack of flexibility when it comes to selecting an Operator. Only services approved by Microsoft can provide their services, meaning that businesses cannot try to reduce their costs by going with an alternative provider. For businesses who desire greater control and power to customise their needs, Direct Routing appears to be the best option.
What is Direct Routing?
Alongside Operator Connect, we have Direct Routing. Much like its counterpart, Direct Routing connects Microsoft Teams to the PSTN through a certified Microsoft Partner, but in this case, organisations retain control of the SBC. Businesses can integrate their current telephony solution with Teams to start utilising the platform to make and receive calls, while also administering the device that protects real-time communications. Moreover, Direct Routing allows other business essential functions, such as call centres and call recording, to be integrated and deliver a better telephony experience for both office and remote workers.
The benefits of Direct Routing
More flexibility when choosing a provider
For businesses that want to use a specific provider or have already begun to invest in their existing PSTN infrastructure, Direct Routing can achieve both options. Much like with Operator Connect, businesses can leverage their existing relationship or begin to make new ones, but Direct Routing gives businesses access to a much larger scope of providers. Organisations with a more complex set of requirements that want to integrate more advanced features, including call centres and analytics software, can choose a provider that can accommodate those needs and assist them in achieving their long-term goals, such as enabling hybrid working.
Keeping control of phone numbers
Direct Routing allows businesses to keep control of their numbers and their dial plan. Switching to Teams as your preferred Private Branch Exchange (PBX) means that existing numbers can be easily ported, along with any new Direct-Dial-In (DDI) numbers that are needed. Businesses can maintain their existing identity, saving both time and money by not having to replace any systems or phone lines after deciding to invest in Direct Routing. The migration to Teams is not a laborious and complicated process, with provisioning over any new numbers done directly from the interface.
Extending your reach in a cost-effective manner
Another similarity between Operator Connect and Direct Routing is the cost-effective way that businesses can enhance their existing communications infrastructure. A cloud-based solution means organisations can begin to move away from existing, physical PBX systems that require maintenance, while allowing businesses to accommodate hybrid working models for employees who desire a more flexible way to do their job. Concentrating your PBX into a single platform that supports video calling, file sharing and real-time messaging means there are less systems for employees to switch between, ultimately enhancing their productivity while saving on subscription fees. Calculating calling costs on a per-usage basis provides further evidence on how cost-effective Direct Routing can be.
The disadvantages of Direct Routing
Giving businesses the means to use a provider of their choice with the Teams platform offers flexibility yet brings with it difficulties around a more complex setup and the need for additional infrastructure, including SBCs. Integrating numerous advanced features to deal with the specific needs of the business can incur greater costs as well, with a reliance on multiple vendors to provide support and guidance making Direct Routing a more complex solution compared to Operator Connect.
Which solution is better for your business?
The technology at our fingertips is giving organisations exciting new ways to communicate and collaborate, making it more important than ever to know how various solutions benefit your business. Whether it’s SIP vs VoIP, UCaaS vs CCaasS, understanding the key differences can bring about the best outcomes for businesses. Operator Connect and Direct Routing is certainly no different. Both can provide a streamlined UCaaS experience, delivering a more cost-efficient way to utilise Teams as a platform to make and receive calls. The future is very much cloud-based, and each one of these solutions are more than happy to take advantage of it. What sets them apart, of course, is their complexity and flexibility.
Gamma’s Solutions Director Richard McPhee once highlighted that ‘simplicity, speed… and service level’ are the three biggest advantages behind Operator Connect. Smaller businesses that require a simple, straight-forward way to communicate can find greater value in Operator Connect, whereas larger businesses can look to Direct Routing to fulfil more complex requirements where flexibility cannot be sacrificed. At the end of the day, what matters is that businesses should look to providers that have a proven track record in providing a high-quality communication system that makes that critical difference.