Hands-On: Skype for Business PBX/PSTN/Teleconference
Updated: Apr 20
I've been using the new Skype for Business (SfB) PSTN-related features for a couple of weeks, in preview. The experience thus far has been painless (largely). I've found good and bad, though "the bad" really is more "the meh" -- no deal-breakers.
If you get in on the preview, you'll receive a "Welcome to the Skype for Business Preview Program!" email from Microsoft. This email covers four topics:
The "Getting Started" sections each contain six fairly simple steps to activate the services. Three more steps for users, and you're on your way. Activating the services took less than ten minutes each, in my case. Microsoft specifically asks that you keep an eye on the clock for this phase, and the follow-up survey asks how much time the activation took in your O365 tenant. Once provisioned. . .
The SfB Admin Center gets a few new tabs, the first being Skype voice
Assigning a licensed user a Skype voice number will allow him to place and receive PSTN calls. When requesting new numbers, you have a choice of major-city prefixes in this list of states:
Select a city, state, and how many numbers you'll need. You add numbers to an overall pool, then assign a (single) number to a user. Handling assignment in bulk via PowerShell isn't yet an option, so it's one-at-a-time via the Admin Center.
On the user side, with a logoff/logon in the SfB client, the dialing pad is now available:
Skype's standard client options are available under the Options gear, notably including call forwarding.
In my brief testing, Skype voice service has worked well, with a few client-side wrinkles. I was able to dial out to landlines and mobiles, and dial in from another phone. Dial-out testing included a short call to the United Kingdom. I'm used to this being cheap with a traditional Skype subscription (or free Skype-to-Skype); however, this SfB feature seems essentially free, as it's included with my E3 subscriptions to O365. I'd barely finished the UK call before I was asking "Why am I paying for my old Skype subscription? "
I noted that international dialing doesn't work from the SfB client for Windows Phone. That client also has troubles accessing full details from my phone's contacts (all of which are synced from my Exchange mailbox.) Definitely check the Known Issues under "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling (U.S. Only)," at the Resources page. All the docs are there as well.
The Admin Center's second new tab is Dial-In Conferencing
The teleconferencing bridge numbers here cover just four major US metros, for now. I selected LA as my default location and number, and English as my default language, with German, French, and Spanish as secondarily supported languages.
Each conferencing-enabled user is assigned one of the numbers from the pool. Multiple users can use the same number, as each user gets a different Conference ID. The Admin Center displays this assignment, and the user sees it when he creates a new Skype meeting in Outlook:
Outlook then adds a link, the dial-in number, and the conference ID to the meeting:
The "Join Skype Meeting" link opens the SfB client (if it's installed) or the SfB Web App in a browser. The SfB client supports VoIP, desktop sharing, IM, and file transfer, assuming those features haven't been restricted by an admin. All of this should be very familiar, if you've been using Lync and Outlook, or been attending Lync meetings. For the SfB Web App, check out the feature and browser support page.
Microsoft is working some known issues, including confusion around PIN numbers for meeting leaders. This means that leaders don't have all the control they might expect. I anticipate that Microsoft will fix this before the preview period ends.
Lastly, Microsoft offers Skype Meeting Broadcast, for online presentations to very large audiences. I am not previewing this product. The full story on that is available at the top of the Resources page.