KEYPOINTS FROM ARTICLE:
- Operator Connect provides options when it comes to Teams-based Phone System integration.
- Operator Connect requires a certified provider, not very many exist at the moment.
- Operator Connect costs the same as Direct Routing, making it an interesting decision.
- Direct Routing as a Service differs in that all phone numbers are managed by a third-party service.
- Operator Connect can use the familiar Windows Portal for service/number management.
- With Direct Routing as a Service you’re going to get more features and functionality, as well as more redundancy than with Operator Connect.
- Both Customers and Partners see different benefits from Operator Connect and DRaaS.
Operator Connect vs Direct Routing Service
If your company follows current technology trends, then you’ve most likely investigated Microsoft Teams phone offerings, and possibly considered replacing your existing legacy phone system?
If this sounds familiar, then you probably first heard about Direct Routing as a Service (DRaaS) and know this means you go to a third party, and they provide your calling plan for the Microsoft Teams phone system.
Initially this seems like a really good idea, as it saves time and money, you get more functionality for less cost, hassle and ongoing maintenance and even regain control of your phone numbers/lines.
Sounds amazing, right? What’s not to like?
Inevitably, and just about the time you begin to understand what DRaaS means and possibly even that it could be a good idea, you hear whispers about something called Operator Connect. Or possibly you saw it time and time again in the Microsoft admin portal, and now you’ve begun wondering about what Operator Connect is, what it costs and how it’s different than traditional DRaaS.
These are all actually very good questions; the two seem so similar… Is there a quick, simple answer?
It’s the magnitude of this question that matters, ass the answer could very well make or break the success of your new Teams-based phone effort. Therefore, it’s best to fully understand the benefits of each, before embarking on a new communications foundation that address your hybrid, remote and on-site users, as well as providing the same tools and resources to everyone, to potentially achieve ‘technical equality’ for everyone.
So… getting right to it, what exactly are the differences between the two, and which service then, would be best for you?
Operator Connect VS. Direct Routing as a Service
Unveiled at Microsoft’s Ignite conference last year, Operator Connect is an operator-managed service that makes it easier for businesses to connect their PSTN to a Teams-based Phone service. By maintaining an existing operator relationship, companies save on infrastructure purchases and management, as well as benefit from enterprise-grade reliability and shared technical support.
Operator Connect is only available from a certified provider and there are currently only a few dozen PSTN operators on Microsoft’s Operator Connect program to address a substantial number of customers that want to move to a Cloud-only option for Teams and voice calling while retaining their existing carrier relationships.
Most Teams Phone customers initially opt for Direct Routing for PSTN connectivity, but many lack the internal skills and expertise required for deployments, leading to frustration and disillusionment. Operator Connect directly addresses this skill level issue, and adds a simpler option for these companies, making it an applicable option for telecom connectivity.
Difference(s) between Operator Connect and Direct Routing as a Service
To begin with, we should take note that these two are actually very similar in many ways, in terms of deploying a Microsoft Teams phone system. When closely examined however, they’re definitely different and issues largely revolve around ownership and/or proprietary intent.
First though, and possibly most interesting, is that for once, you don’t have to worry about pricing!
I know, right? Can you believe it?
Pricing is not a differentiating factor between the two as some providers even offer a choice between Operator Connect or Direct Routing as a Service, often presented at the same price.
Secondly, and probably the biggest differentiator between Operator Connect and Direct Routing as a Service is simply that with DRaaS, all of your phone numbers are managed by a third-party service provider.
For instance, if you want to assign a new phone number to somebody or delete a user, you’re going to need to go into that third-party service providers Cloud PBX portal or their VoIP management portal, as the phone numbers are owned and managed by that third party service provider within their own Cloud PBX portal.
Operator Connect on the other hand has all those phone numbers managed right there within your Microsoft admin portal, so if you want to assign a new user a new phone number you can do it right there.
Here, There or Just About Everywhere?
This locational management really raises the question of why someone would want to manage everything in a third-party portal when it can be managed directly within the familiar Microsoft portal. The answer of course, is because with Direct Routing as a Service you’re going to get more features and functionality, as well as more redundancy than with Operator Connect.
If it helps, think of Operator Connect as almost an exact solution, a very clean, exact solution to Microsoft teams phone systems where you get all the same features, functionality, and redundancy for your call, as if you’re going to Microsoft directly for that dial tone.
Direct Routing as a Service however offers some of those extra features and functionality. For instance, if the Teams app goes down with Direct Routing as a Service, the ability of using their Cloud PBX application as a backup is still available. All the onsite phones/numbers are registered to that third party provider, not to Microsoft directly, so if Teams goes down the phones on your desk will still ring.
Also, you can use SSO to log into that third parties Cloud PBX application and still make and receive phone calls because Teams is actually being powered through DRaaS by that third party’s cloud PBX application, so that it is still up, even though Teams is down, so you can still make and receive calls from that other application in a web browser and using SSO to log in to that third-party Cloud PBX app.
To summarize then, the main difference(s) between Operator Connect and Direct Routing as a Service is with DRaaS you get some additional features, and you get some additional redundancy, but the caveat is that you must manage your phone numbers through a third-party portal. With Operator Connect you get the same exact features and same exact redundancy as Microsoft Teams directly, which is a little lacking in features and a little lacking in redundancy but again, you can manage your phone numbers through the familiar Microsoft admin portal.
Refer to this chart for additional differences between Operator Connect and Direct Routing as a Service.
|Program type||Programmatic approach to operator-provided calling||Not a program. Core functionality|
|Interconnection||Microsoft Azure Peering Service (MAPS) for Voice||TLS/SRTP over Internet or MAPS|
|Number provisioning||Provisioning through APIs to facilitate automation||“Limited” (through PowerShell only)|
|Teams Admin Center||Operator presence in Teams Admin Center||None|
|Customer experience||Number visualized in the portal for provisioning and management||IT admin or operator needs to assign number and policies through PowerShell|
|Data sharing||Call-detail record (CDR) and call quality dashboard (CQD) data provided to operators through APIs||CDR/CQD data can be retrieved tenant by tenant using delegated access|
|Support/SLA||Operator Tier 1 Support; Operator-Microsoft model in place||Operator Tier 1 Support; Escalations through Microsoft 365 and/or Premier Support|
|Management||Dedicated management capabilities in operator portal or API||Delegated admin or Teams role-based access control (RBAC) access required from customer|
|Total cost of ownership||“As a service” model delivered by the operator|
SBC owned and operated by the customer or hosted and managed by operator
Looking Deeper into Operator Connect
Microsoft’s commitment to creating a best-in-class, modern calling experience begins with the deployment of Microsoft Teams Phone.
Operator Connect then, provides you (the operator) with deeper integration into the Teams platform to enhance and streamline the Teams Phone experience around networking, provisioning, management, and reporting APIs.
Doing this provides customers a simplified Teams Phone experience delivered by operators that has parity with other Microsoft offerings. Through this partnership, Microsoft and operators can develop a deeper and more strategic relationship that takes Teams Phone to the next level by delivering higher-quality calling experiences to customers.
Customer Benefits from Operator Connect
Microsoft Teams has more than 270 million monthly active users, and demand for the solution has consistently increased. Part of what makes Microsoft Teams such a compelling choice for Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) and Operator Connect is Microsoft’s operator-managed solution for PSTN connectivity. It allows business users to choose an existing operator within the Microsoft partner network to handle the link from MS Teams to the PSTN environment on their behalf.
With Operator Connect, you can maintain your existing operator contacts (provided they’re part of the Operator Connect program). You’ll also be able to quickly deploy new numbers and calling features in Teams from your admin center, rather than having to rely on reaching out to your third-party direct routing provider. Everything from PSTN calling services to SBCs (Session Border Controllers) are managed on your behalf by your operator, saving on management and purchase costs.
Operator Connect even comes with access to technical support from your chosen operator, shared service level agreements, and Azure-powered direct peering for reliability.
- Bring your own operator
Customers can maintain their existing operator contracts and relationships, while providing users a modern and streamlined calling experience in Teams.
- Simplify setup and management
Reduce provisioning time and management resource needs through a simplified experience in the Teams Admin Center.
- Reduce costs
Operator Connect helps customers save on infrastructure and management costs by reducing the need to purchase, maintain, and manage equipment.
- Enhanced support and reliability
Technical support and shared SLAs across Microsoft and operators improve support service, while direct peering powered by Azure creates a one-to-one network connection for enhanced reliability.
Partner Benefits from Operator Connect
Operator Connect allows you to scale your Direct Routing service to provide a pure cloud-managed solution to your customers. Through Operator Connect, you can create automations to streamline provisioning, billing, and reporting. In addition, you can uncover go-to-market opportunities for existing and new customers. At the same time as the announcement for Operator Connect, Microsoft also revealed “Operator Connect Conferencing”.
According to Microsoft, this service uses the same administrator interface you’ll get with Operator Connect while allowing for the addition of dial-in numbers through a Microsoft Audio Conferencing bridge.
The new Operator Connect Conferencing solution also launched into general availability simultaneously as Operator Connect. It offered companies a valuable way to bring their conferencing operator into their UCaaS environment. The solution allows brands to access expanded geographic dial-in coverage and enhanced support and reliability for conferencing.
- Direct peering through Microsoft Azure Peering Services (MAPS) for Voice
- Network statistics and reporting on Docs
- Ability to offer end-to-end QoS to customers
- High confidence in SLA to customer
Provisioning and onboarding
- Provisioning APIs for setting up trunk to Microsoft Teams
- Upload (using API) phone numbers and/or direct inward dialing (DID) numbers to the Teams Admin Center
- Display and assign phone numbers and/or DID numbers to tenants in the Teams Admin Center
- Numbers show up in the Teams Admin Center, like Calling Plans
- Seamless customer-authorized access (by region) to operator for management of voice tenant
- Operator management portal for customer tenants
- No need to get additional special permissions such as delegated admin to manage calling
- Proactive management capabilities through data analysis and anomaly detection
Teams admin portal integration
- Operator presence in Teams Admin Center, by region and service
- Management and assignment experience for operator numbers embedded in the portal
- Enhanced number acquisition experience through operators
- Reduced time to enable customers for Teams Phone
Streamlined support and communications
- Joint back-to-back support model. Support-to-support and engineering-to-engineering
- Proactive diagnostics and alerts for trunk setup and health
- Regular communications for service interface changes and product updates
- Regular communications about network SLA and call quality