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Businesses must replace cloud Skype phones by 2023

Skype phones won't connect to Microsoft Teams after July 2023. The vendor has advised customers to begin planning an upgrade to new devices certified for Teams.

Microsoft has given businesses four years to replace their Skype for Business Online phones with hardware designed for Teams. It's the latest move by Microsoft to pressure customers into switching to its new cloud-based collaboration service.

This week's announcement stems from Microsoft's earlier decision to shut down Skype for Business Online -- a cloud version of the Skype app included with commercial Office 365 subscriptions -- on July 31, 2021. Desk phones certified for Skype will continue to work with Teams for an additional two years, the company said.

Until the end of July 2023, Microsoft will leave in place a gateway connecting Skype phones to Teams. Microsoft has certified more than 30 Skype phones from hardware partners Poly, Crestron, Yealink and AudioCodes.

Businesses will need to buy new phones by the deadline if they want physical handsets that work with Teams. Many organizations may choose to upgrade to Teams devices sooner because Skype phones provide only basic calling features when linked to Teams through the gateway.

Microsoft's decree will be more burdensome on some companies than on others. The severity of the impact will depend on how long businesses budgeted for the Skype devices to last, said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems, a Microsoft-focused systems integrator.

"Some big companies with thousands of seats use Skype for Business Online as their phone system, so there are certainly lots of these [Skype] phones," Arbuthnot said. Businesses typically plan to replace phones every five years, but some organizations may allow phones to remain in use for seven to 10 years, he said.

The Skype phones -- known as third-party IP devices, or 3PIP devices -- will continue to work with on-premises deployments of Skype for Business. Microsoft is expected to support that product, which is separate from Skype for Business Online, through at least 2025.

The first phones certified to work with Teams hit the market in early 2019. Microsoft has now cleared more than a dozen models for sale from the same four hardware vendors that produced Skype phones. Teams, a messaging and meetings app that competes with Slack, also has a softphone client.

The new devices run Teams as an Android app. Many have touchscreen displays that let users join meetings, view calendars and read voicemail transcripts. The gateway used to connect Skype phones to Teams doesn't support those types of features; even some basic ones, like queues and multiparty calls, don't work correctly.

Crestron and Yealink have released phones that can switch between Skype for Business and Teams without a gateway: the Crestron Flex UC-P100, the Crestron UC-P110, the Yealink T55, the Yealink T56A and the Yealink T58A. Microsoft certified those devices between late 2018 and early 2019.

Poly, AudioCodes and Yealink are also offering deals to help customers upgrade from Skype phones to Teams phones.

Since 2017, Microsoft has been gradually pushing businesses to adopt Teams, even as many customers complained the app didn't support all the telephony features available in Skype for Business.

The vendor has been most aggressive in nudging cloud-based Skype users to the newer app. Last fall, the company began an automated process of switching small businesses from Skype for Business Online to Teams.

Microsoft will stop enrolling new customers in in Skype for Business Online at the end of this month, directing everyone to Teams instead.

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