Direct Routing vs Operator Connect

Direct Routing Vs Operator Connect: The Only Guide You’ll Ever Need 

Microsoft Teams Direct Routing is the process that enables the connection of your own session border controllers to Teams to provide telephony and external calling services from on-site or cloud telephony via a vendor other than Microsoft. Operator Connect, on the other hand, is when Microsoft verifies a telecommunications operator to provide cloud telephony services via a direct connection on Microsoft’s infrastructure.  

The high-level differences between Direct Routing and Operator Connect are as follows: 

Microsoft Teams Direct Routing Microsoft Operator Connect 
Bring your own carrier Choose from approved carriers 
On-premises or cloud managed SBCCloud only 
Session border controllers must be approved Operators must be verified by Microsoft 
Managed, indirect connection between carrier and Microsoft Direct connection between carrier network and Microsoft 
Numbers managed on third-party softwareNumbers managed in Teams Admin Center 
Different interface per SBCSame interface if you have multiple carriers 
Available wherever your SBC is Not available in all countries 
Third-party SBC SLAMicrosoft SLA 
Support for legacy PBX functionality via SBCLegacy PBX functionality not supported 
Supports all PBX integrations Supports Microsoft 365 approved integrations 
Supports hybrid deployments No support for hybrid deployments 
Configurable voice routing Standard voice routing only 

Both are viable options for businesses of all sizes. And there are many similarities and differences to be aware of. 

In this blog post, we’re going in-depth to explore when Direct Routing is the best option, when Operator Connect is the best option, and when there might be a third (or forth) option to consider. 

What is Direct Routing? 

Microsoft Teams Direct Routing, often referred to as just “Direct Routing” is when Microsoft supports connecting session border controllers (SBCs) to Teams. This could either be in your own SBC or a vendor’s environment.  

The physical or virtual SBC connects telephony (on-premises or virtual) on one side to the cloud (Teams). There’s no certification for vendors or end customers to become ready-to-use for Teams. Only the physical equipment can be Teams-certified.  

When you opt for Direct Routing, you get Teams access to unique functionality that an SBC enables. This includes advanced routing rules that you can’t (yet, at least) replicate on a Microsoft Calling Plan deployment.  

So, if you need any/all of the following PBX features, Direct Routing is likely the best choice:  

  • PBX interop  
  • Least cost routing  
  • Media bypass  
  • SIP trunks  
  • Analog devices  
  • Fax   
  • ISDN connectivity  
  • Local site breakout  
  • Survival branch appliance  
  • Complex routing  
  • Extension support  
  • Disaster recovery  

Here is a basic topology diagram of how Microsoft Teams Direct Routing works: 

How does Microsoft Teams Direct Routing work?

How does Direct Routing work? 

Direct Routing works by using an SBC to connect Microsoft Teams and another telephony carrier. The SBC literally controls the border, instructing how the two parties operate together. 

On one side, you have the PSTN connection. This might be a SIP trunk or ISDN connection. On the other, you have your Microsoft environment.

Here’s a basic diagram depicting how an SBC works as the control gateway between your PSTN provider and a Teams user. 

Microsoft Teams Direct Routing diagram

To set up Direct Routing, there is one prerequisite from Microsoft: 

  • Microsoft Teams Phone license 

Once you have the relevant licenses in place and kit setup, you can provision Direct Routing to any type of Teams client and any common area phones. 

If you need new numbers for your Teams telephony setup, you can provision these as per your normal process. 

When you need to port numbers in, this process also remains the same as your PBX provider doesn’t change; only the connection to Teams. 

What are the advantages of Direct Routing? 

The benefits of Microsoft Teams Direct Routing are: 

  • Provides a consistent user experience as there’s no third-party calling app 
  • Covers regions outside of Microsoft Calling Plan 
  • Allows users to make calls directly from Teams 
  • Enables integration with line of business apps 
  • Lets you keep your existing phone numbers 
  • Scales easily by adding and deleting users 
  • See out your existing telephony contract 
  • Enables complex routing setups 

With the wide number of business collaboration tools in use (even within a single organization), standard phone calls are a unifying communication tool. 

Collaboration with external stakeholders still mostly takes place on the phone. Fundamentally, integrating this communication option into your business collaboration tool is the only way to deliver full-spectrum coverage across every necessary collaboration channel.   

Direct Routing pricing and costs 

Direct Routing pricing differs from provider to provider. 

As a guide, we have included our own pricing, accurate as of August 2023: 

  • $2.30 per user per month pay as you go (including a DDI) 
  • $4.19 per user per month inc 300 minutes per user 

Choose Direct Routing when… 

1 – Long-term phone system contracts get in the way 

If you have any existing PSTN provider tied up in a contract, Direct Routing allows you to use that phone system as your telephony provider. 

2 – Industry-specific regulations restrict your options 

Ideal for on-premises connections in industries like finance and healthcare, when legislation or compliance dictates the cloud shouldn’t be used to transmit data or phone calls, Direct Routing provides an option to keep telephony on-site while enabling Microsoft Teams. 

3 – Important features aren’t available in Microsoft Teams 

If you have specific PBX functionality that isn’t (yet) available via Teams, Direct Routing allows you to have the best of both worlds: keep your PBX functionality and use Teams for collaboration and meetings. 

Direct Routing providers 

Anyone can be a Direct Routing “provider”. Microsoft doesn’t certify vendors as providers of Direct Routing. Instead, it verifies the SBCs.  

Here is a list of verified SBCs for Direct Routing, accurate as of August 2023: 

  • Microsoft 
  • Audiocodes 
  • Ribbon 
  • Thinktel 
  • Oracle 
  • Metaswitch 
  • Cisco 
  • Avaya 
  • Nokia 
  • Ericsson 
  • Italtel 
  • Cataleya 
  • Atos 
  • Sansay Inc 
  • Enghouse Networks 
  • Patton Electronics Co 
  • M5 Technologies 
  • Ekinops 
  • 46 Labs LLC 
  • Frafos 

You can use this link to check if your existing SBC has been verified since this blog post was published (September 2023). 

What is the alternative to Direct Routing? 

The obvious alternative to Direct Routing is Operator Connect.  

If you have no need for on-premises telephony but wish to use your existing (or a new) provider for calling, Operator Connect is a viable alternative to Direct Routing. 

What is Operator Connect? 

Operator Connect is when carriers are approved by Microsoft to provide direct cloud calling access via Microsoft Teams. Instead of using Microsoft as the calling provider, you use an approved operator. 

For example, in the UK, you might have an existing calling agreement with BT. In the US, it might be Verizon or AT&T. These are all approved Operator Connect partners who can provide cloud telephony via Microsoft Teams. 

When set up, users make calls using their Teams client, but the “Operator” makes the call behind the scenes. Just like Direct Routing, there’s no difference seen by users making calls. 

Microsoft Operator Connect topology diagram

It’s important to note that Microsoft doesn’t select carriers to become “Operators”. The carrier makes the decision and must undergo Microsoft’s approval processes. 

How does Operator Connect work? 

Your chosen Operator looks after all layers of infrastructure and uses a direct connection to Microsoft’s cloud. 

Essentially, they look after the PSTN, SIP trunks, and SBC, then connect to Microsoft to power your calling functionality in Teams. 

The diagram shows the basic responsibility of Operators when providing calling for Microsoft Teams. 

How does Operator Connect work? 

What are the benefits of Operator Connect vs Direct Routing? 

Operator Connect allows you to keep your existing calling provider without the need to manage the telephony environment yourself. With Direct Routing, you must either manage your own PBX and SBC or pay a provider to do this for you. 

With Operator Connect, you simply choose an Operator from Microsoft’s approved program, and they do everything for you. This means there’s no hardware needed on-site either. 

If you need to make any changes, you can access the Teams Admin Center (TAC) like you would any other configuration changes for meetings, collaboration, chat, etc. 

This combination of no hardware and instant access via the TAC means you have faster and easier initial deployment. All you need to do is connect to your Operator and assign numbers to get started. 

As Operator Connect uses direct peering with Microsoft, you can expect reliability over Direct Routing thanks to the one-to-one network created by each Operator. 

Microsoft Operator Connect Microsoft Teams Direct Routing 
No managed telephony environment Managed by you or third-party 
No hardware needed SBC needed 
Fast and easy deployment  Complex deployment; needs planning 
Direct peering for enhanced reliability Reliability dependent on PBX 

Operator Connect pricing and costs 

How much you pay for Operator Connect depends on your call carrier. 

Each vendor will have their own call costs for domestic and international calls.  

The major benefit of using Operator Connect is that you benefit from existing packages or discounted rates, rather than paying retail for Microsoft Calling Plan. 

As prerequisites, you need Teams access via a Microsoft 365 plan and a Teams Phone license. 

Choose Operator Connect when… 

1 – You’re ready to go all-in on cloud 

You have no legacy on-premises infrastructure left in use or it is deemed unnecessary or poor quality compared to cloud telephony options. 

2 – You value speed and flexibility over complex routing 

You need to make regular changes to users, groups, and numbers. But you don’t need to set up a complicated routing table and inbound logic. 

3 – You don’t have the in-house resources to manage a phone system 

If you need help from a vendor to run your telecoms infrastructure and/or have an existing calling agreement in place with a telco. 

Operator Connect providers 

Microsoft is verifying Operator Connect vendors at a rate of knots. 

Microsoft Operator Connect partners

As of August 2023, here are the verified Operator Connect partners for calling.

See if you see your existing telco provider: 

  • Access4 
  • AIS 
  • AT&T 
  • Aura 
  • Bandwidth 
  • Beanfield 
  • Bell 
  • BICS 
  • BT 
  • CallTower 
  • CBTS 
  • Colt 
  • Cox Business 
  • Duetsch Telecom 
  • Dstny 
  • Enreach 
  • equada 
  • Fusion Connect 
  • G12 
  • Gamma 
  • GTT 
  • HelloTeams 
  • Intelepeer 
  • Liquid 
  • LoopUp 
  • Lovo 
  • Lumen 
  • MetTel 
  • Nexon 
  • NFON 
  • NOS 
  • NTT 
  • NuWave 
  • NWN Carousel 
  • One New Zealand 
  • OneCloud 
  • Optus 
  • Orange Business Services 
  • outbox 
  • Peerless Networks 
  • Peoplefone 
  • Pingco 
  • Proximus 
  • Pure IP 
  • Rogers Business 
  • SCB Global 
  • Sinch 
  • Singtel 
  • Six Degrees 
  • Sunrise 
  • Swisscom 
  • Switch Connect 
  • Symbio 
  • Tata Communications 
  • Tele2 
  • Telefonica Empresas 
  • Telefonica Global Solutions 
  • Telenor 
  • Telesmart 
  • Telia 
  • Telnix 
  • Telstra 
  • Telstra Global 
  • TELUS 
  • Verizon Business 
  • Virgin Media O2 Business 
  • Vodacom 
  • Vodafone Business 
  • Vox 

As you can see by the length of the list, which keeps growing, the popularity of Operator Connect can’t be disputed. When telecom operators see an opportunity to retain or provide new calling services to their clients that use Microsoft Teams, Operator Connect makes sense for all parties.

Microsoft keeps an up-to-date directory of Operator Connect partners here. You can filter by region and offer (calling, conferencing, mobile).  

What is the alternative to Operator Connect? 

There are three alternatives to Operator Connect: 

  1. Microsoft Calling Plan 
  1. Microsoft Teams Direct Routing 
  1. Callroute 

When is neither Direct Routing nor Operator Connect the right choice? 

For small businesses or small sites within a business, Microsoft Calling Plan provides a compact alternative to both Direct Routing and Operator Connect. 

You can subscribe to Microsoft Calling Plan in the Teams Admin Center and apply pay-as-you-go plans, buy Communications Credits, or buy a minutes bundle. 

Here are the key differences between Microsoft Calling Plan and Direct Routing: 

Microsoft Calling Plan Direct Routing 
Activate quickly Requires planning and setup 
Access in Teams Admin Center Possible to integrate with line of business apps 
Good for basic calling requirements Good for complex requirements 
Regular monthly billing Covers regions outside of Microsoft Calling Plan 
Per user billing Achieve feature parity with previous phone system 

You can choose from Pay-As-You-Go Calling for Calling Plan or post-pay invoice billing.  

If you choose post-pay invoice billing, you don’t have visibility over your spend until the invoice at the end of each month. However, you could benefit from not needing to purchase a minutes bundle upfront. 

Microsoft Calling Plan: pros and cons 

Microsoft Calling Plan keeps all your Teams-related licenses 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.  

Microsoft Calling Plan Pros Microsoft Calling Plan Cons 
Activate quickly Limited changes 
Access in Teams Admin Center Restricted integration 
Good for basic calling requirements Restricted telephony features 
Regular monthly billing Expensive when scaling 
Per user billing Limited regions 

Read More: Direct Routing vs Microsoft Calling Plan for Microsoft Teams 

The bottom line on Direct Routing vs Operator Connect 

Both Direct Routing and Operator Connect provide substantial options if you use Teams for meetings and collaboration and want to move your telephony and calling to Teams too. 

There are various pros and cons that change per business, and you should pay attention to this when making a decision. 

What’s not made easy with either solution is catering for multiple calling providers and multiple locations. 

For example, you might have your New York office running Teams for collaboration and AT&T for telephony, but your London office is using Teams plus BT. 

From an admin perspective, the desired state is that you connect your carriers, contact centers and your PBX users together in one place. 

What you need is a single platform that can connect any carrier, in any country to Microsoft Teams. 

Which is exactly what Callroute does… 

We put number management, policy management, and PSTN connections into a single portal. 

Integrate Direct Routing, Operator Connect, or Calling Plan 

Instead of milling around making countless changes and forever calling your supplier, you could connect your voice services to Microsoft Teams within minutes with our one-click integration.  

There are no infrastructure or deep technical skills required. Just access to our self-service platform. 

Inside the portal, you can: 

  • Automatically assign Direct Routing phone numbers 
  • Automatically assign Microsoft Calling Plans phone numbers 
  • Automatically assign Operator Connect phone numbers  
  • Mix and match locations, users, and numbers 

You also benefit from our auto-provisioning service, which helps you save time and money on new user assignments, moves, adds, and changes. 

There’s no more lengthy setup and there’s no human to make human error. You just create a user persona template and leave the rest to our automation. 

Creating user persona templates for when you integrate Microsoft Teams Direct Routing and Operator Connect users and numbers

Sounds like something you want to explore? 

Find out more about Callroute’s Teams Calling integration here 

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