Update 3/2/2016 – Added new information on countries where PSTN conferencing license purchase is now available.
On December 1, 2015 Microsoft officially added PSTN conferencing as a native feature for Skype for Business Online customers. For a number of years PSTN conferencing was offered through Audio Conferencing Provider integration in Office365 but this marks the first time that Microsoft has included this feature natively. There are significant differences in how the ACP provider integration works and how the Microsoft native provider works, so be sure to check out those differences to make sure your business and technical requirements are met. For most customers, however, the Microsoft Bridge (aka Microsoft PSTN Conferencing Provider) will provide the needed features and do it for a lesser cost than other services in the market.
Licensing is always one of those difficult conversations but people always ask… I won’t provide cost breakdowns here, as Microsoft may provide you different cost structures based on your existing Enterprise Agreements, but what I will provide is some background on how the PSTN conferencing feature fits in with the overall Office365 licensing structure for Skype for Business.
License Bundle Info
Option 1 – Purchase E5 licenses for your end users
The PSTN conferencing feature is included within the E5 suite purchase, so all you need to do is purchase the E5 suite, assign the E5 suite to your users and assign the PSTN Conferencing add-in license to your users. Users now have access to Skype for Business Online, PSTN Conferencing and any additional features available through the E5 suite.
Option 2 – Purchase PSTN Conferencing Add-In licenses for your E3 and E1 users
If you have existing E1 or E3 suite purchases, you would need to purchase only the PSTN Conferencing Add-in license for any users that will be hosting PSTN conferences. Users now have access to Skype for Business Online, PSTN Conferencing and any additional features available through the E3 or E1 suites.
Option 3 – Purchase PSTN Conferencing Add-In license for your Skype for Business Online Standalone Plan
This option will likely be less common, but if you have a Skype for Business Online Standalone Plan, you can purchase the PSTN Conferencing Add-In license for those users. An important distinction is that the Standalone Plan must be Plan 2; Plan 3 is not supported.
Not all tenant regions can purchase the PSTN Conferencing license. Microsoft will continue to add tenant regions during CY 2016, but you will need to check and see if your tenant region is currently available. Current regions include:
Many folks out there handle licensing of Office365 accounts through PowerShell scripts and the structure of the PSTN Conferencing license is a huge improvement to what is offered for the configuration of licensing for E1 or E3 or E5 suite components. While assigning the base Skype for Business Online license is done through the E-suite license, the PSTN Conferencing license is actually a separate SKU within your tenant. As a result, licensing AccountSkuIDs look like this:
AccountSkuID ------------ UCVNEXT:STANDARDPACK UCVNEXT:ENTERPRISEPACK UCVNEXT:MCOMEETADV
The MCOMEETADV AccountSkuID is the license for the PSTN Conferencing Add-In. Assigning this AccountSkuID to a single user account within Office365 is a simple PowerShell command:
Set-MsolUserLicense -UserPrincipalName [email protected] -AddLicenses "UCVNEXT:MCOMEETADV"
For bulk adds, you can utilize a CSV file containing UPNs and assign licenses to your users en-masse:
Set-MsolUserLicense -UserPrincipalName $_.userprincipalname -AddLicenses "UCVNEXT:MCOMEETADV"
Remember that all users receiving the MCOMEETADV AccountSkuID license must have the Skype for Business Online license previously applied to the account. Trying to assign the MCOMEETADV license will result in failure if the account does not already have the Skype for Business Online license.
As an aside…if you aren’t handling licensing through Powershell…you should be. Stop assigning licenses through the Office365 Admin Portal and automate!
Local Number Availability
One of the major differences between the Microsoft Bridge and the ACP Bridges are that the range of local number availability for Microsoft is a bit smaller. This is a temporary limitation that will expand as Microsoft adds their reach into other countries across the globe, so be sure to check what countries are currently available. Current regions include:
|United Kingdom (UK)|
|United States (U.S.)|
For any of the regions above, you can assign a local number Microsoft provides within that region as the default PSTN Conferencing number for a user account. The number you assign will then be added to the user’s Skype for Business meeting invites automatically:
There are several PowerShell cmdlets that will give you additional information about PSTN Conferencing configuration within your tenant. Some important ones:
A few samples of these in action:
Obtaining Dial-In Numbers
Get-CsOnlineDialInConferencingServiceNumber | Select-Object City,Number
Setting Default Tenant Dial-In Number
Set-CsOnlineDialinConferencingBridge -Name "Conference Bridge" -DefaultServiceNumber 17739228035
Assigning Dial-In Number to User Accounts
Set-CsOnlineDialInConferencingUser -Identity [email protected] -ServiceNumber 17739228035 -BridgeName "Conference Bridge"
Current Feature Limitations
While the PSTN Conferencing Service is fairly robust, there are some limitations that may impact rollouts and usage of the service. Microsoft maintains an authoritative list of those limitations but a few notable ones are included below.
Limited DTMF Support
At current, only two DTMF commands are supported:
- *6 to mute/un-mute
- *1 for help
This is a significant reduction when you compare DTMF commands that are available for on-premises deployments, but commands will continue to be added within CY 2016.
No Private Conference ID Support
Each meeting you create will have the same PSTN conference ID.
This can become an issue if you have back-to-back meetings and users start to join the second call early. You could potentially lock the meeting so that new users can’t join but this is a change from on-premises deployments where you can have unique conference IDs automatically created for each meeting request you create. Microsoft has indicated that private conference IDs are expected to be available in early CY 2016, so this limitation will hopefully be short lived.
No Toll-Free Support
Toll-free numbers are not currently available for PSTN Conferencing in Office365. This may be a concern for some customers that utilize toll-free calling with their current PSTN conferencing provider but I wouldn’t expect too many customers having a problem with this. Microsoft is looking at adding toll-free numbers to PSTN Conferencing, but limited information is available with how that may change either the pricing structure or feature configuration.
Maximum User Support
All Conference Policies within Skype for Business Online maintain a limit of 250 users within a conference and this then limits the total number of PSTN users that can join a Skype4B Online meeting. For customers that have large meetings with more than 250 users, this will be a potential problem with no current solution. Skype Meeting Broadcast may be an alternative here, but since Meeting Broadcast doesn’t provide PSTN integration it may not be a true alternative. Be sure to properly gauge your meeting sizes to ensure that you don’t leave users unable to join due to maxing out the number of users in a conference.
Office365 reports are somewhat limited in capabilities for Skype for Business and may not provide all types of reports required. Some organizations may required advanced reporting capabilities around cost center bill-back or detailed conference roster reports that currently aren’t available within Office365. Since Microsoft provides a RESTful API access to gather detailed reporting data via Excel, organizations may be able to build reports to fill in the gaps but I anticipate that not all requirements will be able to be met.