Microsoft has made it easier for companies to connect existing phone lines and numbers with the Skype for Business telephony service in Office 365.
The latest Skype telephony capabilities, announced this week at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando, Fla., are in the new Cloud Connector Edition of Skype for Business Server, which is scheduled for release in April.
Microsoft also announced at the show that people in 17 more countries could buy the PTSN Conferencing in Office 365. The dial-in Skype telephony service is available for use in 60 countries. By the end of June, Microsoft plans to expand the service into more than 100 countries.
In April, Office 365 Cloud PBX will have an enhancement that includes an automated attendant that uses speech recognition in handling business calls. Many of the new calling features in Office 365 stem from the cloud-based PBX system Microsoft launched last December.
Microsoft has been bolstering voice communication in its unified communications products since the release of Lync 2013, now called Skype for Business. Skype telephony is included in many Office 365 plans. The cloud PBX adds IP telephony to Web and audio conferencing, voicemail, webcasting and the full suite of Office productivity tools. The meetings and voice services can be purchased in a bundle or as add-ons to the Office 365 plan. In the U.S., the premium bundle costs $35 per user per month, plus a $12 calling plan.
In May, the company will provide a preview of its Skype telephony service in the United Kingdom. U.K. customers can test features that include number acquisition and assignment, inbound and outbound calling and voicemail.
Launching Project Rigel
Microsoft also introduced at Enterprise Connect an initiative to bring its meeting experience to Windows 10 tablets for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business’ online meeting technology.
Polycom and Logitech will be among the first companies to partner with Microsoft on Project Rigel. Polycom has integrated Skype for Business into its RealPresence Trio and CX5100 gear. Logitech is using Skype technology in its ConferenceCam Connect, ConferenceCam GROUP and PTZ Pro Camera for Project Rigel.
Polycom will also update its RealPresence Group Series products to provide integration with Office 365, and a user interface consistent with the meeting features in Skype for Business. Polycom also plans to host in Microsoft’s Azure cloud an interoperability service for video-conferencing systems. These features will be available this year.
Microsoft is aiming the Skype telephony services within Skype for Business at companies with a large number of remote workers, particularly tech-savvy millennials who expect to be able to work from mobile devices. This year, millennials became the largest segment of the workforce.
"These days it does not matter if it's a wall-sized screen in a meeting room or a phone or tablet while sitting in a coffee shop, people expect to be able to collaborate effectively with their colleagues and customers," said Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research.
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