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Microsoft Skype for Business Online: UCaaS product overview

As a cloud-based product, Skype for Business Online continues to evolve into a full-fledged unified communications service, with calling, conferencing and collaboration features.

Editor's note: This Skype for Business Online product overview is part of a series on unified communications as a service, or UCaaS. Part one examined the evolution of UC in the cloud, and part two discussed the business case for UCaaS. Part three detailed the purchasing criteria and key features to consider, and part four compared the top vendors in the market.

Microsoft opened its doors to unified communications as a service by integrating Skype with its popular Office 365 product. The company has created several plans and services that make its offerings suitable for organizations of all sizes worldwide.

With Skype for Business Online, organizations get a complete UC service that offers instant messaging and presence status, peer-to-peer voice and video, voice and video conferencing, desktop sharing, connectivity to others via the Skype network and mobility to pretty much any device.

Support includes Windows, Mac, Android smartphones, iOS and web clients. And because Skype for Business Online is powered by the Microsoft cloud, organizations can expect high availability and service uptimes.

Balance features with costs

Skype for Business Online currently offers two plans. Plan 1 is $2 per user, per month, and it includes limited UC services. Plan 2 -- at $5.50 per user, per month -- includes more collaboration features. Skype for Business Online can also be purchased as part of an Office 365 plan.

As part of the Office 365 Business Essentials and Business Premium plans, Skype for Business Online supports high-definition video and audio conferencing for up to 250 people. Instant messaging and presence -- during and outside of meetings -- lets users know when their colleagues are available. Enterprise-level, 24/7 technical phone support is also included.

The Business Essentials and Business Premium plans are priced at $5 and $12.50 per user, per month, respectively. These two plans offer almost the same services, but the Premium plan allows a user to have an Office license installed for up to five PCs or Macs, plus Office installed on five tablets and five phones per user. Both plans also provide 1 TB storage space per user and a 50 GB inbox for Outlook, along with enterprise-class email, calendar and contacts.

Cloud telephony boosts vendor's UC status

Office 365 is Microsoft's flagship product that enables businesses to work, communicate and collaborate online. In addition to the plans mentioned above, Microsoft offers four more plans: Office 365 ProPlus and three enterprise plans -- E1, E3 and E5.

The ProPlus plan includes locally installed Office applications, while the E1 plan provides online Office applications, with 50 GB mailbox storage for Exchange Online, Skype for Business, HD video conferencing and more.

The E3 plan is essentially a combination of the ProPlus and E1 plans. The E5 plan includes cloud-based calling via a cloud PBX service.

Microsoft's cloud PBX enables businesses to make, receive and transfer calls to and from landlines, mobile phones, tablets and PCs from almost anywhere internet access is available. Cloud PBX is included in the E5 plan and available as an add-on service in other plans. The cloud PBX service brings Microsoft on par with other UCaaS providers.

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