Direct Routing vs Microsoft Calling Plan for Teams

man using IP phone inside room

The Benefits of Callroute and Teams

Remote working has accelerated the adoption of calling capabilities within business collaboration tools. Even in today’s increasingly digital landscape, standard calls to telephone numbers — as opposed to digital calls to other tool users — remain a unifying communication tool. 56% of business owners still state that the most popular way for customers to contact them is by telephone. 

Microsoft Teams’ success as a collaboration tool is in part because of its calling capabilities. In this article, we are going to look at the two primary options for adding real calling to Teams: Direct Routing and Microsoft Calling Plan.

Note: Apps like RingCentral and Zoom offer cross-launch functionality from Teams — shortcutting access to PSTN (or equivalent) calling. But this is an incomplete and un-integrated solution, and will not be our focus here. You can learn more in our article: Phone Calls with Microsoft Teams.

The bottom line: We should state upfront that Direct Routing has the potential to be the better solution, but not all Direct Routing solutions are the same. By using our own service at Callroute, however, we can talk about some of the specific advantages that Direct Routing has over Microsoft Calling Plan. 

What is Calling Plan?

Calling Plan is the default Microsoft solution for placing PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) calls from Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business. Remember, we’re talking about real phone calls here, not just audio calls to other Microsoft Teams users. 

Calling Plan is charged on a per-user basis, starting between £4.50 per-user/per-month up to over £18.10 per-user/per month — depending on your licenses, the number of minutes you need, and international calling capabilities. For more details, check out our blog explaining Calling Plan Pricing.

Phone System: The Prerequisite for Calling Plan

In order to set up Calling Plan, you first need Microsoft Phone System. Phone System is included in Microsoft 365 E5, but must be purchased as an add-on with others. If you’re unsure what package you’re on and whether you have Phone System, check out our simple Microsoft Licence guide which will tell you what you need to get started with Direct Routing.

On-premise telephony is generally managed by a PBX (Private Branch Exchange). This enables call management, user controls, routing, recording etc. When using Microsoft Calling Plan, Phone System provides this control. The problem with Phone System (and, therefore, Calling Plan) is that Phone System isn’t as good as a PBX. You have to compromise on call recording, reporting, and user and queue management.

Suggested reading: For more information, please check out our review of Microsoft Phone System.

Calling Plan: Pros and Cons

Microsoft Calling Plan keeps all of your Teams-related licences with Microsoft, and it’s simple to get started. But it doesn’t provide the sophistication you likely need to replace your existing business phone system. 

What is Direct Routing?

Direct Routing delivers the same capability as Microsoft Calling Plan — it enables PSTN calling from Teams — but it does so while creating a much better outcome. Direct Routing (and Calling Plan) work using SIP (Session Initial Protocol) trunking to make end connections for voice transfers over the internet. You also need Phone System to enable Direct Routing, but with Direct Routing, Phone system is just a prerequisite licence. It is not used as a stand-in for a PBX. 

The difference is that Direct Routing connects Microsoft’s Phone System to the PSTN via a telephony provider, rather than Microsoft. This means introducing complete PBX capabilities to your Teams calling solution, and avoiding the shortcomings of Microsoft Phone System. Direct Routing also introduces a wider range of device compatibility, and an overall greater degree of customisation and control — including price flexibility. 

Pro tip: Direct Routing can either be provided by a third-party, or by the PSTN carrier. For example, at Callroute, we provide both the PSTN service and integration capabilities. The latter option delivers far faster integration and improved quality controls because back-end integrations can be pre-configured and the entire process is controlled by a single provider.

Why Calling Plan Often Falls Short

With Calling Plan (and Phone System), you get a partial solution that improves Teams, but can’t replace your real phone system. This means Calling Plan won’t work to simplify your infrastructure — nor can it really unify your communications. Ultimately, if you require a more sophisticated approach, Calling Plan leaves much to be desired. Here’s why:

  • A lack of call recording: This can create compliance and quality control issues. 
  • No call reporting: A lack of reporting means you can’t see individual team member use rates or control costs individually. 
  • Limited queue capabilities: With Calling Plan, the queue is limited to 200 people and only offers a waiting period of 45 minutes. Again, for many organisations, particularly at the enterprise level, this simply won’t work.
  • Endpoint and handset compatibility issues: These limitations force users to rely on a limited number of compatible devices. For businesses with BYOD policies, this lack of flexibility simply won’t cut it.
  • Insufficient routing options: While there are routing options with Calling Plan, there are no customised skill-based options. 
  • Inability to unify phone numbers: If you use Calling Plan and a secondary PBX, you can’t unify phone numbers. Instead, you’ll generate a number for each Teams account, creating redundant infrastructures and more complicated workflows.

What Makes Direct Routing the Better Choice (Most of the Time)?

Every Direct Routing solution will be unique to the provider and integration. A lot of Direct Routing solutions are let down by slow integration times — often up to seven days — and inflexible pricing with long-term contracts reminiscent of traditional telephony. But neither of these problems are inherent to Direct Routing, and finding the right provider can remove them entirely.

With Callroute for Direct Routing, you get:

  1. Number porting service: With Callroute, you can port and keep your existing phone numbers with a fully managed number porting service
  2. The ability to buy new numbers: We have over 10 million phone numbers available from all around the world. At Callroute, you can build a global presence affordably.
  3. Access to on-demand support: We provide 24/7 customer support, as well as migration, ongoing tech support and regular maintenance — all you do is place the calls.

There’s no question that unified communications is essential to the future of business. The best option for creating a streamlined communication and collaboration strategy is Direct Routing, which gives you the advantage of sophisticated telephony directly from Teams.

With Callroute, you can harness the power of Direct Routing, unify your phone system, simplify workflows and future-proof your calling capabilities in a matter of minutes. To learn more about how Direct Routing can benefit your team, try it out for free today.