Microsoft Teams Is Free For Limited Use
For communications between Teams users, the Microsoft Teams service is free and included with every Microsoft 365 and Office 365 license. In fact, you don’t even need one of these licenses to download Teams and begin using the app for yourself. However, you will need a standard Microsoft license to unlock Teams’ full functionality in terms of integration with other Microsoft products and services.
Teams Requires a Microsoft License for Integration with Other Products
Businesses and any user that wants to seriously use Microsoft Teams for communications and collaboration between users will want (and need) to pay for full functionality. With a paid Microsoft or Office 365 license, Office apps like Word and Powerpoint become integrated, so users can use Teams in conjunction with other Microsoft products and services, sharing files and feedback without ever leaving the Teams app. Onedrive cloud storage and Outlook email are also integrated, making it quick and easy to fetch documents and other important files for sharing and collaboration. Without a paid license, you won’t get any of this functionality.
Teams and Microsoft Phone System
If you want to use Teams to make/receive calls on the PSTN (ie to/from real phone numbers), then you’ll need to pay extra for Microsoft’s Phone System license add-on in addition to your Microsoft license.
With the Microsoft Phone System add-on (included in the Microsoft Business Voice add-on package for Business licenses), you’ll be able to use the Teams app, or Teams-compatible IP phones from brands like Yealink, to make and receive business calls over the external telephone network. This way, you unlock the ability to use Teams as your business phone system.
Limitations of Microsoft Phone System
Whilst some smaller businesses might be fine with the basic features and configuration options that Microsoft Phone System offers, large businesses and those with high call volumes will need more.
When it comes to features, Microsoft Phone System is limited. Basic concepts like call routes and hunt groups do not exist within the Microsoft admin dashboard for configuration. Since Teams is an evolution of Skype for Business, phone system configurations entirely ‘user-centric’. For example, creating a call queue involves taking one of your Teams Virtual User licenses and configuring this user to act as a call queue. For Teams, there’s next to no difference conceptually between a call queue and a person in your business. For the person setting up the phone system, this is either going to be a frustrating and limiting quirk (at best) or a problem that completely prevents the creation of an effective business phone system.
Options for calling plans are also very limited with Microsoft Phone System. Sales and recruitment firms, or any other establishment making a large number of outbound calls, will quickly find Microsoft’s these plans too restrictive. The most inclusive calling plan on offer in the UK is 1200 domestic minutes or 600 international minutes (whichever your users hit first) per user per month. 1200 minutes equates to 20 hours of talk time. Most sales firms expect their staff to make a hundred or more calls a day and, at 2 minutes per call, that’s over 3 hours of talking per day, meaning they’d hit this limit in fewer than 7 working days. Additional minutes are charged at a premium pay-as-you-go rate too.
Teams Direct Routing
So, Microsoft Teams is a great platform for internal communication and collaboration within a business. Unfortunately, it can’t do everything perfectly and is let down by its limited feature-set and restrictive calling plans.
Thankfully, you can have the best of both worlds with Teams Direct Routing. This essentially replaces Microsoft Phone System in the back-end with a compatible third-party offering like Yay.com, giving you the powerful business phone system you need integrated right into the Teams app, leaving you with all the bits you love.
If using multiple services for your unified communications service seems less, well, unified than you’d like, remember that you can always just use a third-party unified communications provider to get business instant messaging, secure file sharing and a business phone system without the limitations. You just have to be willing to let go of the tight integration between your unified communications platform and all the Microsoft products and services. If you really want such tight integration, then your only option is to use Teams and then bolt-on a third party phone system via a Teams Direct Routing solution if the call plans and phone system features aren’t enough for you.
Whilst Teams is free to download, it cannot be used in the way you expect without a paid Microsoft license. These come in at various price points depending what other Microsoft products and services you want access to and are charged per user per month.
If you want to use Microsoft Teams as a phone system, you’ll need the Microsoft Phone System add-on license. Small businesses might be able to make do with the simple configuration options and features included here, but large businesses will need more cost-effective and flexible call plans as well as a more feature-rich platform if they want to offer their customers the best caller experience possible.
A third party’s phone system can be used if the provider offers a Teams Direct Routing solution. With such a solution, you’ll retain the front-end experience of using Teams, as well as its integration with other Microsoft products and services, but you’ll be able to configure the phone system in the back-end with your third-party’s UI, features and calling plans.
If you’re not enamoured with the Teams experience and would rather use a single provider for all your unified communications needs, then you’ll want to bypass Microsoft altogether and go with a unified communications provider like Yay.com that offers a feature-rich, cost-effective business phone system from the start, along with those other essential features like encrypted business instant messaging, secure file sharing and video conferencing.