Operator Connect vs. Direct Routing

Microsoft Teams is quickly becoming the go-to solution for business communication. Teams unites text, video, and voice communications in one app. It also integrates with other Microsoft apps most businesses already use.

Teams has exploded in popularity throughout the business world in the past few years. The app recently reached 270 million monthly active users, up from 145 million in 2021.

Yet, while it’s an excellent solution for the basics out of the box, it needs PSTN connectivity to make outside calls and become a truly complete telecom platform. You’ll need Phone System to enable internal call control, but you also need a PSTN solution to make external calls.

Microsoft provides three options to enable PSTN connectivity in Teams. These include:

  • Calling Plan: Microsoft’s all-in-one solution that makes Microsoft your new PSTN carrier.
  • Direct Routing: You bring your own SBC or your provider’s SBC to connect to the phone system.
  • Operator Connect: You bring a Microsoft-approved PSTN provider that manages PSTN connectivity and Session Border Controllers (SBCs).

Calling Plan is simplistic and designed for small businesses that don’t have a PSTN provider. However, even for small businesses, it can quickly become expensive since outgoing calls are billed per minute on top of a monthly per-user license fee.

For most businesses, Direct Routing and Operator Connect are cost-effective solutions for enabling PSTN connectivity within Teams.

Both options are undoubtedly similar, but there are also significant differences you should understand before signing up. Keep reading to help you decide which solution is right for your business.

What is Microsoft Direct Routing?

Direct Routing was Microsoft’s first option for bringing your own PSTN carrier to Teams. Operator Connect came later and simplified the process, but Direct Routing is by no means outdated.

Direct Routing lets you use any PSTN carrier, and they do not require approval from Microsoft; their services simply need to be compatible. Businesses will need an SBC that connects to the PSTN carrier via telephony trunks, then connects to Teams’ Phone System. Once configured, all your employees will have a robust voice solution that works entirely within Teams.

Usage is billed based on your chosen carrier rather than Microsoft. This flexibility enables businesses to work with existing carriers or switch to a new one that provides the most cost-effective pricing model. You’ll still need the right Team’s license, but your PSTN provider handles the billing for external calls.

What are the Benefits of Direct Routing?

Direct Routing is a powerful option for enterprises as it allows them to configure complex interoperability between their own equipment, third-party PBXs, analog phones, other platforms, and Teams.

Some of the core benefits of Direct Routing include:

  • Ideal for complex systems: Enhanced control to build the right telecom solution that meets your unique requirements.
  • Keep your phone numbers: Control and ownership over your phone numbers; they do not need to be ported to Microsoft.
  • International and domestic reach: Geographic reach is only limited by your PSTN provider, letting you contact all of your customers and clients.
  • Works with other systems: Able to use other UCaaS solutions as Direct Routing lets you route calls to other systems when needed.
  • Maintain discounts and benefits: Keep your existing PSTN carrier to take advantage of any existing deals and loyal customer benefits.Enterprises often opt for Direct Routing when they need enhanced control but want to use Teams as the user-facing app.

What is Microsoft Operator Connect?

Operator Connect is the most recent PSTN solution from Microsoft. It was designed to simplify the process of adding PSTN connectivity to Teams, sidestepping the complexity of Direct Routing.

Operator Connect PSTN carriers require approval from Microsoft. Fortunately, many top carriers have already been approved, so there are still plenty of options. You may even be able to keep your current carrier.

Why do carriers require approval? Carriers have access to direct peering between Teams and the SIP trunking infrastructure, which means they need the right integrations and technologies in place.

Operator Connect is relatively simple to configure and can be done within the “Operator” tab in the admin panel of Teams. Additionally, IT teams can provision or de-provision new users within Teams rather than relying on the PSTN provider.

What are the Benefits of Operator Connect?

Operator Connect was developed with simplicity in mind. This focus makes it an excellent choice for businesses with straightforward needs, a limited IT staff, or little to no on-premise infrastructure.

Some key benefits of Operator Connect include:

  • Simple deployment: Your IT staff won’t likely have any issues connecting Teams to your chosen carrier. It’s done entirely with the admin Teams interface and is a straightforward process, provided you’re working with an approved carrier.
  • Potential to keep your existing carrier: If your carrier is approved by Microsoft, you can keep your current contracts, relationship, and pricing. No need to break your contracts and shop around to use Operator Connect. You’ll also be able to keep your phone numbers with your carrier; you won’t need to port them to Microsoft.
  • Streamlined user management: Administrators can provision or de-provision users without needing any coding or PowerShell knowledge. Users are managed entirely within the admin interface.
  • Minimized or eliminated hardware spending: Depending on your needs, you’ll spend less on required hardware or eliminate hardware expenses entirely. For example, you don’t need any on-premise hardware, and you can even get rid of desk phones if you wish. You’ll also minimize the expense of maintaining and supporting on-premise hardware.Operator Connect is perfect for businesses of all sizes with straightforward requirements, from small businesses or enterprises.

Operator Connect vs. Direct Routing: Which Solution is Right for You?

How can you decide which option is right for your business? You can hone in on the right choice by asking a few questions about your current system and future needs:

  • Do we need a complex or unique telecom solution? Direct Routing provides advanced control and configuration options over Operator Connect.
  • Do we have an IT staff with the right experience? Operator Connect does not require IT teams with specialized training, whereas Direct Routing typically will. For example, Direct Routing requires PowerShell experience to provision new users.
  • Can we use our existing PSTN carrier? Direct Routing can work with almost any PSTN provider, whereas Operator Connect only works with Microsoft-approved carriers.
  • Do we still want to pay for on-premise hardware? Direct Routing needs a customer-provided and maintained SBC, whereas Operator Connect does not.
  • Will we be able to reach all of our customers and clients? Both options have the potential to provide the right amount of coverage, but it will depend on the PSTN carrier. Make sure to choose the right carrier based on your needs.

Your answers will likely encourage you to pick one solution over the other. Fortunately, Momentum works with both Direct Routing and Operator Connect. We’ve got you covered and are ready to help with whichever option is best for your business.

Are you ready to make Teams a complete telecom platform? Contact us today to speak to a telecom expert to learn more or get started.

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