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New Microsoft Teams calling features narrow gap with Skype

Microsoft will complete its Microsoft Teams calling roadmap in the coming weeks, with the release of four advanced call controls targeted at enterprise users.

Microsoft plans to add four advanced call controls to Microsoft Teams in the coming weeks, completing its roadmap for bringing the critical telephony features of Skype for Business to Teams. The announcement comes as Microsoft steps up its efforts to migrate users from Skype to Teams.

The four new Microsoft Teams calling features were previously only supported in on-premises deployments of Skype for Business. Microsoft finished adding to Teams all the telephony features of Skype for Business Online, the cloud-based version, earlier this year.

"They definitely have closed the feature gap with Skype for Business," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill. "All in all, I think these feature announcements highlight that Teams is able to serve as an enterprise phone system."

In October, Microsoft stopped letting small businesses sign up for Skype for Business Online, directing those customers to Teams. The vendor also began notifying cloud-based Skype customers with fewer than 500 employees of its intention to automatically migrate their users to Teams.

Technology companies are all looking to boost cloud sales. The vendors will initially forgo revenue from large one-time hardware sales, but monthly income from software subscriptions should make up for it over the long term.

Many enterprises, however, have resisted the switch to Teams, complaining that it lacks the advanced telephony features they need. The advanced calling features being added to Teams this month should alleviate many of those concerns, but large businesses still need an easier migration path to the cloud. 

Enterprises typically transition users from on-premises to cloud communications platforms in phases. That means Teams users need to be able to communicate with Skype users. But Microsoft does not support chat interoperability directly between on-premises Skype and Teams. Enterprise users expressed frustration about this hurdle at the Microsoft Ignite conference in September.

In contrast, Cisco announced this week that customers could now seamlessly link its on-premises unified communications client, Cisco Jabber, with its cloud-based collaboration app, Cisco Webex Teams, through a software update.

Microsoft appears poised to release a hybrid cloud setup similar to Cisco's that would let on-premises customers begin using certain Teams messaging and meeting features within the Skype client. However, the vendor has yet to announce a timeline for that release.

Advanced Microsoft Teams calling features complete telephony roadmap

Three of the advanced features -- group call pickup, call park and shared line appearance -- should become available within the next several weeks. A fourth feature, location-based routing, is slated for release in the first quarter of 2019.

Group call pickup improves an existing feature that lets users automatically forward incoming calls to groups of colleagues. The system can ring each member of the group simultaneously or one at a time in a predetermined order. The update lets users customize the appearance and type of notifications that members of the group receive with incoming calls.

Call park is a sophisticated way to put callers on hold. Parking a call generates a code, which gets sent -- in a text message, for example -- to the employee the caller is attempting to reach. That employee can then answer the call in the Teams app.

Shared line appearance lets businesses create user accounts with multiple phone lines. The incoming calls to those lines are all automatically forwarded to other users. The auto-forwarding enhances the existing delegation feature whereby users give other people the ability to answer and make calls on their behalf. It should appeal to sales teams and other small groups as an alternative to an automatic call distributor.

Location-based routing is a way to establish rules for sending calls between voice over IP endpoints and public switched telephone network endpoints based on the regulatory restrictions in the locations of the callers.

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