Calling Plans or Direct Routing: Everything You Need to Know

Emily Dye

Emily Dye

Calling Plans or Direct Routing

Chances are if you’re reading this blog you’ve already put some thought into integrating Microsoft Teams with your wider communications strategy and what options are available to you.  If you haven’t, allow me to catch you up – yes, you can use Teams for external calling.  This blog will discuss one of the main decisions you’ll need to make if you want to use Teams for external calls, and that is how do you want to connect to the PSTN (the global network of circuits with telephone lines) – via Calling Plans or Direct Routing.

What do I need to use calling plans or direct routing? 

Regardless of which option you go for, there are two things that you’ll need:

  1. A paid subscription to Microsoft 365 or Office 365 – which we can assist you with
  2. A Phone System license for each user you want to enable external calling for (this comes included with E5 licenses).

The Phone System license provides all of the standard features you’re used to from a traditional phone system or PBX – things like transferring, hold, call forwarding, voicemail, auto attendants and queues.  It does not, however, enable dial tone.  That’s where Calling Plans and Direct Routing come in – these are your connection to the outside world.

There are other prerequisites for each option, read on to find out more.

What are calling plans?

Calling Plans are when you connect to the PSTN through Microsoft.  Microsoft provides you with DDIs and a bundle of minutes.  If you go down the Calling Plans route, you essentially turn Teams into a hosted PBX that is maintained by Microsoft.

You will need to purchase a Calling Plan license for every user you want to be able to dial externally.  Calling plans are available in two flavours:  Domestic, and Domestic and International. Each type of plan comes with a bundle of minutes per user, per destination type (the exact amount varies by country).  Minutes are pooled among users in the same type of plan.

Bundled minutes are for outbound calls to covered destinations.  Calls to destinations not covered by your call plan, and calls inbound to toll-free numbers are covered by Communications Credits, which is a top-up fund that is run down on a per-minute basis for these types of calls.

Each user will also need a phone number or DDI.  These are provided by Microsoft.  If you have a range of numbers you’d like to keep, these can be ported to Teams (provided a porting agreement exists between your existing carrier and Microsoft).

What is direct routing?

Direct Routing is when you use SIP trunks and a Teams-approved Session Border Controller (SBC) to connect to the telephone network.  It allows you to connect virtually any SIP trunk with Teams, meaning you can maintain relationships with carriers and suppliers of your choice.  Your carrier will provide you with numbers/DDIs, and your voice traffic will be subject to the contracted tariffs or minutes bundles you have negotiated with them.

You can also use Direct Routing to configure interoperability between your existing phone system and Teams, allowing you to make the most of existing communications investments.

Calling plans – The good

Probably the biggest pro for Calling Plans is Microsoft itself.  Because your Phone System for Teams is hosted by Microsoft, it is subject to their top-level security, services and support.

Calling Plans are relatively straightforward to deploy, so you can get up and running with a voice solution fairly quickly.  There is no need for any additional hardware and no need to speak to carriers/PSTN providers.  The Teams Admin Center was built around Calling Plans making moves adds and changes relatively straightforward.

The connection to the PSTN is direct from the user – traffic does not have to traverse the internet or a VPN back to any office-based equipment.  This reduces delay in voice traffic and security risks.

Finally, the minute bundles are ample and are unlikely to be exceeded on a regular basis.

Calling plans – The not quite so good

The biggest drawback to Calling Plans is the cost.  While the minute bundles are ample, they are expensive so you will likely end up paying for minutes you’re just not using.  Communications Credits are similarly not cheap.

Another thing that makes Calling Plans less attractive is the lack of flexibility.  Microsoft does not offer Calling Plans globally – and if they’re not available in your country, or in a country where you have a presence, you’re going to have to think of another way to enable voice for Teams.  Currently Calling Plans are available in 16 countries (with partnerships in an additional two), including the UK.

There is no analogue capability, so if you have any analogue devices in your organization, they will not be able to be part of your Phone System for Teams deployment using Calling Plans.

While numbers can be ported to Microsoft, this process isn’t straightforward, although general consensus is it is becoming easier as the demand for Phone System for Teams grows.  Bear in mind if you wish to keep numbers and port them to Teams, you will need to wait for the contract with your existing provider to expire, or be prepared to pay early termination charges.

Calling plans – Who are they good for?

Due to the relative ease of deployment, Calling Plans are best for small businesses whose communications requirements are relatively straightforward.  If all you really need to be able to do is dial out and some basic call distribution and you want to reduce the number of supplier relationships to do it, Calling Plans is likely a good proposition for you.  Businesses with a high number of home workers may find them attractive, due to the reduced latency in voice traffic mentioned earlier in this article.

If you can answer yes to the below three questions, Calling Plans might just be what you need to enable Phone System for Teams:

  • Are Calling Plans available in your region?
  • Do you not need to maintain your relationship with your current carrier?
  • Are you happy for Microsoft to be your carrier?

Direct routing – The good

The pros and cons for Direct Routing are pretty much the opposite of what they are for Calling Plans.

The thing that makes Direct Routing most attractive is the flexibility.  You can connect to any carrier you wish, with differing levels of support, features and costs.  If you have a good relationship with a supplier, you can maintain that and still enable voice for Teams.  If you are in an existing contract with a carrier, you can still enable Phone System for Teams.

Call costs and minutes bundles are available at much lower costs and with greater flexibility, so you can tailor your minutes bundles to the amount that you actually need each month.  If you need to port numbers, most carriers have had porting agreements with each other for years, so the porting processes is tried, tested and generally a much smoother process than porting to Microsoft.

Interoperability between other parts of your telephony infrastructure and Teams is available with Direct Routing. This includes things like analogue devices, or your phone system in general – you could potentially continue to route all voice traffic through your existing PBX but fork calls off to Teams users.

Direct Routing is available globally.  And this is generally a more cost-effective solution as you’re not having to buy Calling Plan licenses for each user.

Direct routing – The not so good

The biggest drawback to Direct Routing is it is a more complex solution than Calling Plans.  Session Border Controllers require a qualified pair of hands to configure and maintain.  They are best dealt with by a dedicated IT department or a trusted partner (like Blackstar).

As the Teams Admin Center was built around Calling Plans, some adds, moves and changes may need to be done using PowerShell, which again, requires its own skillset to negotiate efficiently.

Direct routing – Who is it good for?

Direct Routing is best for larger companies or companies needing flexibility, support and global coverage.  Direct Routing is a better fit for companies with more complex telephony needs, for example call recording, contact centre or analogue devices.

If you can answer yes to these three points, Direct Routing is probably the best fit for you:

  • Do you have complex telephony needs?
  • Do you want to use Teams with your existing phone system?
  • Do you want to maintain the relationship with your current carrier?

I want both – Is that possible?

Yes, Calling Plans and Direct Routing can be combined in the same deployment.  So if you want to keep your current carrier, but have your home workers connect directly to the PSTN using Calling Plans, a combination of both options is absolutely possible.  Bear in mind you will need to make sure your infrastructure meets the prerequisites for both Calling Plans and Direct Routing:

How can we help?

Blackstar is experienced in deploying Calling Plans and Direct Routing across a wide range of verticals. We’ve been deploying calling in Teams from the start and are a certified Microsoft Partner and have just launched our reporting and analytics tool for Teams called Beam.

We’re happy to help you with your Phone System for Teams deployment in any way that suits you – from providing Microsoft licenses, Session Border Controllers, SIP trunks, project co-ordination, engineers, end user and admin training, and on-going support and config changes – or any combination thereof.

To find out how we can help contact us on 0333 123 2 123 or email [email protected]