What is the difference between Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan?

What Is The Difference Between Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan? 

Operator Connect is when Microsoft verifies a telecommunications operator to provide cloud telephony services via a direct connection on Microsoft’s infrastructure, whereas Microsoft Calling Plan is Microsoft’s own retail calling product that enables you to pay your call charges to Microsoft directly. 

Here are the high-level differences between Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan: 

Operator Connect Microsoft Calling Plan 
Requires planning and setup Activate quickly 
Telco makes changes Access in Teams Admin Center 
Good for complex requirements Good for basic calling requirements 
Covers regions outside of Microsoft Calling Plan Regular monthly billing 
Per organization billing Per user billing 

To find out which is best for your company when comparing Operator Connect vs Microsoft Calling Plan, we need to dive into your requirements. 

We can do this using some basic distinguishing factors: 

  • Company size: larger companies that make regular externals calls 
  • Number of locations: companies with multiple locations 
  • Geographical presence: companies with offices in different countries 
  • Existing telecom contracts: companies tied up in long-term calling agreements 

If you fall into any of these categories, Operator Connect will most likely be the best option for you. Microsoft Calling Plan isn’t designed to cater to any of these requirements at scale. 

If you make a lot of calls and/or already have a telecom agreement in place for calling, Calling Plan can come out on the expensive side. 

To use Operator Connect, however, you’re chosen calling provider must have completed the Microsoft verification process. 

Operator Connect partners 

Here are all the verified “Operators” as of September 2023: 

  • 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  
  • SIPPIO  
  • 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 Mark Vale says in his Commsverse blog post, “If your Operator is listed here, all it will take is a simple phone call to them to order your Teams telephony solution. Once ordered, your numbers will appear in Teams like magic, and you’ll be able to make and receive calls.” 

Aside from the key criteria, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re getting from each of Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan. 

Let’s explore exactly what you’re getting from each. 

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

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. 

Microsoft Operator Connect diagram

What are the benefits of Operator Connect vs Microsoft Calling Plan? 

The major benefit of Operator Connect, when compared against Microsoft Calling Plan is that you’re using a telecoms provider, usually your existing partner, for calling. In theory, this is the cheaper option for your overall business. 

When you have discounted minutes thanks to multiple offices, high volume of calls, or length of contract, you can retain that cost saving by staying with your calling provider (operator). 

You get the best of both worlds: 

Microsoft Teams for collaboration + Discounted calling provider for minutes 

Outside of this, you have the obvious benefit of coverage where you need it. Some Operator Connect partners now span the entire globe. If you’re with a certain provider for their local PSTN connectivity, you can keep everything as is (if they’re an Operator Connect partner). 

Then there are more complex items like: 

  • Cross-charging departments (certain providers only) 
  • Integration with other voice products 
  • No number porting needed 
  • Advanced routing decisions 

Operator Connect vs Microsoft Calling Plan pros and cons 

These are the pros and cons for both Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan… 

Microsoft Calling Plan pros and cons 

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 

Operator Connect pros and cons 

Microsoft Operator Connect Pros Microsoft Operator Connect Cons 
Wide geographical reach Management of extra provider for support, contracts, etc. 
No number porting needed Your provider may not be approved 
Advanced routing Management of extra providers for support, contracts, etc. 
More options for integration Less flexibility than Direct Routing 
May be tied into a longer contract Overwhelming choice of operators if you’re selecting new 

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 pre-requisites, you need Teams access via a Microsoft 365 plan and a Teams Phone license. 

What is Microsoft Calling Plan? 

Microsoft Calling Plan is the name of its retail calling product. You can bundle Microsoft Calling Plan with a Microsoft Teams Phone license.   

In this scenario, Microsoft is your operator. You pay Microsoft for both the Phone license and the Calling minutes. There is no need for a third-party calling carrier like AT&T or Verizon.   

Everything is hosted in the Microsoft cloud. There is no need for any on-premises infrastructure.  

Without Microsoft Calling Plan, or a calling plan provided by a third-party operator, users can’t make external calls with Microsoft Teams. Their Teams calling capabilities will be restricted to internal only.  

Microsoft Calling Plan is available is a number of countries, including the UK.  

To set up Microsoft Calling Plan you just need to subscribe to the service in the Teams Admin Center.  

Can I port numbers to Microsoft Calling Plan?  

Yes, if you have existing phone numbers you wish to retain, you can port them to Microsoft Calling Plan.  

Microsoft is a genuine telecoms operator so usual porting regulations and processes apply.  

How many minutes do I get with Microsoft Calling Plan?  

Minutes differ depending on the type of Microsoft Calling Plan you subscribe to.  

In the US, you can choose from:  

  • Domestic Calling Plan  
  • International Calling Plan  
  • Pay-As-You-Go Calling Plan  

How many minutes are included in the Microsoft Teams Domestic Calling Plan?  

You can choose from different bundles of minutes when subscribing to the Microsoft Teams Domestic Calling Plan:  

  • 120 domestic minutes  
  • 240 domestic minutes  
  • 1,200 domestic minutes  

If you opt for the Microsoft Teams Domestic and International Calling Plan, you get:  

  • 1,200 domestic minutes or 600 international minutes, whichever is reached first  

It’s important to note that while these minute bundles are priced per user per month, minutes do overflow to other users within that same bundle.  

For example, five users may have 120-minute bundles. This means a total of 600 minutes are available for those five users. If one goes over their 120 minutes, they can use the remainder of the total 600 available.   

However, there is no cross-bundle spillover. So, if those five users burn through their 600 minutes (5 x 120), they can’t dip into the minutes available from users who subscribe to a 240-minute bundle.  

What happens when I exceed the number of minutes in the Microsoft Calling Plan?  

When a bundle’s minutes are used up, calling doesn’t stop. Users can still make calls, but charges are per minute.  

With Communications Credits enabled, you can pay per minute for any excess. Communications Credits is a prepaid bank that can be run down per minute. The rate, however, is variable and depends on geography and call recipient.    

Pro tip: If you run out of minutes and you haven’t set up Communications Credits billing and assign a Communications Credits license to your users, your users won’t be able to make calls. 

Pay-As-You-Go Calling Plan  

The Microsoft Pay-As-You-Go Calling Plan allows users to make external calls within their region without the need to subscribe to a Calling Plan.  

An alternative to subscribing to the Domestic or International Calling Plan, Pay-As-You-Go is charged based on the minutes used, either with Communication Credits or post-usage billing.  

The US falls under Pay-As-You-Go Calling Plan Zone-1-US. 

What are the benefits of Microsoft Calling Plan vs Operator Connect? 

The main benefit of Microsoft Calling Plan, when compared to Operator Connect, is the simple access via the Teams Admin Center and the ability to turn on and off or change from PAYG to monthly billing.  

Ideal for temporary users, like seasonal staff or contractors, Calling Plan offers the flexibility to make changes whenever you need them. The per user billing aspect is also beneficial for small businesses that won’t make enough calls to qualify for large discounts from big telecom vendors. 

Or if your primary requirement is to have everything under one roof, Calling Plan provides the only option for going truly all-in with Microsoft. For some, the costs associated with dealing with multiple vendors for contracting, support, and moves, adds, and changes doesn’t provide a clear ROI. 

Conclusion 

So, there you have it. Both Operator Connect and Microsoft Calling Plan are excellent solutions. 

It’s just a matter of matching them to the right business. 

A reminder of the high-level differences before you go: 

Operator Connect Microsoft Calling Plan 
Requires planning and setup Activate quickly 
Telco makes changes Access in Teams Admin Center 
Good for complex requirements Good for basic calling requirements 
Covers regions outside of Microsoft Calling Plan Regular monthly billing 
Per organization billing Per user billing 

Good luck with all your telephony and calling implementations! 

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