Phone Calls with Microsoft Teams

You Have 3 Options, Which One Is Best?

There are three different ways to make phone calls with Microsoft Teams: 

  1. Make internal “Teams-to-Teams” calls: Out-of-the-box, Teams lets you call other Teams users in your organisation in a straightforward way. Click on their contact info, and give them a call.
  2. Call using another app: Third-party applications can quick-launch from Teams, letting you call external phone numbers. Although you can initiate these calls from Teams, they aren’t actually placed with Teams — more on this problem later. 
  3. Use Teams to call anyone: Both Microsoft and third-parties provide options that connect Teams to the telephone network — letting you use Teams like a standard phone system. If you want a unified and integrated communications system, this is the solution for you. 

Communicating with other Teams users is what Teams was built to accomplish. But with a little additional investment, Teams can transform into a fully-functional telephone system.  

Centralised communication tools improve collaboration, simplify infrastructure and drive efficiency. We are going to explain the basics of Teams-to-Teams calling, and then demystify the calling plan options able to deliver more sophisticated solutions.  

Let’s get started!

Call Type 1: Teams-to-Teams calling  

Calling other internal Teams users is straightforward and can be accomplished on any device with Teams installed. You can place a Teams-to-Teams call from the “Calls” tab, “Chat” tab, or “Teams” tab — making it easy to jump between messaging, file sharing, calling, conferencing, and video calls.    

Note: If you are specifically interested in making external calls (PSTN, Direct Routing or PBX capabilities) feel free to skip to “Call Type 2”.

What’s good about this option:  

If your whole organisation is using Teams, this kind of call can work for internal communication. There are no additional charges or licences to think about, as it’s all included in whatever version of Microsoft Teams you currently use. 

What this option lacks:

Teams-to-Teams calling is not set up to handle external communication. Limitations include: 

  • Everyone needs Teams: Teams is the most popular business collaboration tool. Our own high-level research indicates that 60% of organisations use the platform. But it’s not universal. Beyond the hassle of adding external collaborators to your internal environment, not everyone will have Teams in the first place.  
  • Limited analytics and call management functionality: In high call volume environments, there are a lot of operating and reporting capabilities that simply aren’t present with Team-to-Teams calling. For example, there is no operator console, call centre dashboard, skills-based routing or real-time reporting.   
  • There is no phone number: This comes back to the fact that everyone needs Teams. Fundamentally, you don’t have a phone number someone can call back. It requires using Teams, and making sure it’s used in the right way.  

Who should make this call:

Teams-to-Teams calling might be all of the call functionality a small business needs from Teams, and this type of call has a place in most workplaces. It’s useful for quick internal communication, but it doesn’t work for external calling. Larger businesses, and anyone engaged in sales, customer service (or anything requiring a lot of external calls), needs a better solution. 

Call Type 2: Calling with another app

If you want to place an external call with Teams, you are going to need some support. When first looking into it, there are some appealing short-cut options. Applications like Cisco Jabber, Webex, RingCentral and Zoom (among others) all have external calling options, and provide software overlays to quickly launch those products from Teams. 

These solutions can be pretty sophisticated. How these tools work within Teams also depends on the application. For example, Cisco Jabber provides you with a standard dial pad that looks a lot like the Direct Routing options we will discuss in the next section, whereas Zoom quick-launches from “Teams” pages. 

What it costs:

There are no additional costs from Microsoft. However, the total cost will depend entirely on the application you choose. Zoom Audio Plan, for example, starts at $100 per/month as credit towards a rather complex per-minute pricing plan. Cisco Webex, on the other hand, has a pretty straightforward per-user/per-month rate of around £15 per month — variable, depending on the number of users.   

What’s good about this option:

This is a simple solution (to set up) and it keeps everything in the cloud. If you already have one of these other calling apps, you can make it slightly more convenient to access from Teams by using in-app overlays. 

What this option lacks:

The problem with this option is that it’s not actually integrated or unified communications. Effectively it’s just a cross-launch overlay which makes it easier to switch from one application to another. Although helpful, it leaves several problems un-addressed. 

  • Seamless experience: You have to go out of your way to use these third-party tools within Teams — clicking on a specific icon or launching the app in a specific way. If you just try and call someone (using the standard Teams options) you won’t make a PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) call. That can also make it hard to expand a Teams-to-Teams conference call to include someone over the PSTN.   
  • User consistency: You are using another application. That means any inbound calls will not ring the Teams client, they will ring the third-party app. A user might not even receive a return call on the device they made it on in the first place. 
  • Centralisation: Using more than one app means that you cannot centralise either storage or access. It’s likely that contact lists and call histories get spread out across applications, making it harder to track usage and creating a disjointed experience for users. 
  • Federated presence: The ability to set status notifications within business collaboration tools has transformed how we communicate over distance. Unified communication solutions federate those presence notifications across every platform, making them more effective. Cross-launch overlays don’t pull that information across.  

Who should make this call:

If Teams isn’t your main collaboration platform, this might be an easy win. It can make it easier to use both applications, and jump between the two when needed. But don’t get tricked into thinking this is real integration — it’s not. And you should ask yourself if you want to use more than one tool in the first place. If you want unified communication (and the benefits that come along) you are going to need a different solution. 

Call Type 3: Use Teams to call anyone

Microsoft Phone System is the gateway to all true telephony capabilities using Microsoft Teams. Phone System is included in the Microsoft/Office 365 E5 plan, but needs to be purchased as an add-on for the E1 and E3 plans for £6 per-user/per-month. For Microsoft 365 Basic, Standard, and Premium Business plans, Phone System has to be purchased as part of the Microsoft 365 Business Voice package — more on that later. 

Once set up, users will see a “Dial a number” option and number pad in the Teams “Calls” tab, but they won’t actually be able to make external calls with Teams. On its own, Phone System can be configured to provide some PBX (Private Branch Exchange) functionality for registered Microsoft phones. But it’s really just a prerequisite to the two options for placing integrated PSTN calls with Teams. 

Option 1: Microsoft Calling Plan 

The Microsoft Calling Plan is the standard Microsoft solution for PSTN calling with Teams. It’s really the second half of Phone System and is the only option Microsoft offers for calling. Simply put, Calling Plan takes the basic PBX capabilities of Phone System and tacks on PSTN connectivity. 

What it costs: 

Microsoft Calling Plan pricing varies based on usage, the size of your organisation, and your existing licences. Priced independently, the Microsoft 356 Domestic Calling plan starts at £4.50 per-user/per-month for 120 minutes, and jumps to £9.00 per-user/per-month for 1200 minutes. The international plan starts at £18.10 per-user/per-month. Both of these are in addition to the £6 per-user/per-month cost of a Phone System licence.  

Small businesses in the UK can access Microsoft Calling Plan through the Microsoft 365 Business Voice package for £12 per-user/per-month. This bundles the Phone System licence with Calling Plan, but is limited to 300 users. It is worth noting that Phone System can be purchased independently with Business Voice for £7.50 per-user/per-month, but only through a partner reseller

What’s good about this option:

Keeping everything consolidated with Microsoft is simple. You are able to contact anyone  — regardless of whether or not they are a Teams user — and you get a specific phone number people can call back. 

What this option lacks:

Although Microsoft compares Phone System to a PBX, it doesn’t really provide the full functionality that you would expect from a PBX — and Calling Plan doesn’t change that. Most features are either lacking in sophistication or require an additional third-party add-on to work. For example: 

  • Call recording: There are no standard call recording capabilities within Phone System, creating compliance and quality control issues. 
  • Call reporting: There are no standard reporting functions within Phone System. You can’t see per-user use rates or control costs on an individual level.  
  • Call queues: You can set up call queues using Phone System. But the queue is limited to 200 people and a wait period of 45 min. You have a number of routing options, but no customised skills-based options, or the ability to add in customised information and link that to automated IVR (interactive voice response) menus. 

Realistically, Calling Plan doesn’t provide you with sufficient control for high-volume environments. You will either need to augment this system with third-party add-ons, or use it in tandem with a more sophisticated PBX. However, this kind of defeats the point. It also introduces endpoint and handset compatibility problems — forcing you to use a limited number of compatible devices

If you use Calling Plan and a secondary PBX, you won’t be able to unify phone numbers. You will just generate a new number for each Teams account. This creates redundant infrastructures and more complex workflows. Fundamentally, you’ll end up with a disjointed and partially functional system.

Option 2: Phone System with Direct Routing

Rather than doubling-down with Microsoft Calling Plan, you can connect Teams to a third-party carrier via Direct Routing. To do this, you need a Phone System licence. From there, most of the specifics will depend on the third-party. 

Suggested reading: What Is Direct Routing?

In general, the benefits of Direct Routing over Microsoft Calling Plan include: 

  • True PBX capabilities: Direct Routing allows you to connect Teams to a real PBX and Session Border Controller (SBC). This means you get all of the sophisticated controls, reporting functions and queue management functionality you need from a complete telephony solution. 
  • Endpoint and handset compatibility: Direct Routing to a third-party frees you from the compatibility limitation present in Microsoft Calling Plan. 
  • Unified telephony: Linking Teams to real PBX functionality allows you to actually centralise your calling capabilities within Teams, removing the need to create multiple disjointed systems. 
  • Cost: Depending on your provider, Direct Routing can be cheaper than Microsoft Calling Plan. Unifying your telephony will also reduce overall cost long-term. 

Executing this option might mean selecting a third-party able to use SIP trunks and Direct Routing to connect another third-party carrier to Teams, or using a third-party provider that can deliver both of these outcomes themselves. 

Make a phone call with Microsoft Teams today

We (Callroute) are one of these “third party” Direct Routing solution providers able to integrate Teams and PSTN. Although we can’t run through the pros and cons of every third-party integration option in this article, we can explain why someone might choose our solution over Microsoft, and what makes our solution stand out compared to other third-party providers. 

  • Commitment-free: You get 1x free channel for life with Callroute, meaning it’s easy to test out and see if it’s right for you. Simply set up your account in minutes, no card required. Find out more about what’s included.
  • Fast: Unlike other Direct Routing options, which can take up to seven days to install, Callroute can be up and running in a matter of minutes using a self-serve platform. By integrating the Direct Routing & PSTN breakout into one solution, our integration process can be auto-configured so you can call from Teams in a few clicks.
  • Affordable: Our prices start at £7.50 per-channel/per-month. We charge per-channel so your business only pays for the capacity it needs rather than for every user. Multiple users can be allocated per channel based on business demand, but if you want a separate channel for each user, it’s still cheaper than Microsoft and most per-user provides on the market. The fact that we charge per-channel (rather than the market norm of per-user pricing) enables you to even further reduce costs while making PSTN calling available to all users. Per-channel pricing also improves your ability to plan and control costs, delivering budget security and stability.
  • Flexible: With Callroute, we become your PSTN carrier. That means we can guarantee your ability to keep your handsets, phone numbers and more. We have over 10 million global phone numbers available, so you can purchase the right numbers at the right time.  
  • Augmented: Our background in corporate telephony means that we understand the importance of reporting, security and calling features. You can choose caller IDs, check call history, track user activity, monitor calls, control who calls where and when, enable remote access to your phone system, and more. Get all of the capabilities of a fully functional corporate telephony solution straight out of Microsoft Teams. 
  • Unified: Having a fully functional telephony solution accessible through Teams lets you simplify your infrastructure — creating further cost savings and optimising the flexibility and efficiency of workflows. 

Although Callroute isn’t the only third party option, what makes it a great starting point is your ability to get started in minutes with a free voice channel for life rather than a time-limited trial. No commitments and no card required.

Your phone calls, your way

Not every business will have the same telephony requirements. For some small businesses, traditional phone systems might not even make sense. Relying on VoIP and video conferencing, mixed with BYOD policies, could be enough. 

For most businesses, nothing beats the simplicity and reliability of a phone call. The ability to apply traditional reporting, analytics and skills-based routing are all critical components of call management. Simply having a phone number that people can call back is essential, and the call quality is better. 

To make phone calls with Microsoft Teams and keep your communication and collaboration centralised, you need to connect Teams to PSTN. Freeing your Teams users to flexibly call anyone they want creates more effective workflows and will simplify infrastructure long-term. Get in touch if you want help going through the specifics to pick the right solution for you. Alternatively, you can try out Direct Routing and start placing calls from Teams in minutes with our free phone line for life.