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Microsoft Teams has been in extensive use for collaboration features such as IM, Teams meetings, 1:1 or group calls, files collaboration, etc., and has been explored by all organizations without any additional financial costs with existing Microsoft 365 licenses. This has been a boon to organizations for increasing productivity. However, one of the added functionalities of Microsoft Teams, which comes in handy, is to replace traditional telephone systems by enabling the Teams integrated Cloud telephone system that includes Calling Plans and PSTN Audio conferencing options for dial out and dial in capabilities—all without any additional on-premises PSTN infrastructure set up.
The Catch with Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing Features
Availability across a given tenant is based on the initial data residence location (or organization billing address), and it must align with Microsoft 365 calling and conferencing features available for the given region. For Example, any M365 tenant initially set up with a billing address in India or China is devoid of Audio-conferencing Capabilities by design.
For a complete list of the latest M365 Audio Conferencing and Calling Plans region-wide availability, please Click here. This link is handy for all architect professionals while setting up new tenants to decide on an initial data residence location and to check on available MS Teams audio conferencing features. Owing to taxation regulations and compliance, the M365 tenant’s initial or billing location cannot be updated later, and the given tenant is devoid of the required features.
Microsoft Teams PSTN/calling and conferencing features can be categorized as follows:
- Dial out to domestic/telephone numbers for users enabled with the respective calling plans.
- Dial out from an Audio-Conferencing meeting to add someone else from anywhere in the world.
- Dial out from an Audio-Conferencing meeting to your mobile/office phone with the user logged into Microsoft Teams app.
- Dial in (Toll/Toll Free Numbers) and dial out capabilities to MS Teams meetings.
- Dial into a meeting using the service numbers or Toll-Free numbers enabled for given tenant.
Audio conferencing features for given users are based upon enablement of the given Audio-Conferencing licenses: as a part of Microsoft Business Voice, Microsoft Teams Phone standard, MS Teams phone with Calling, E5 license, or as an M365 Add-on license.
For leveraging and billing purposes of calling features across MS Teams, Microsoft has categorized all countries across the globe into two zones which is Zone A and another zone for rest of the countries not included in the aforementioned. For example, Albania, Argentina, Cayman Islands, Dubai, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Israel and many more. To access the update list of M365 Zone A countries please click here.
Microsoft Teams Audio conferencing licenses can be categorized in to 2 types:
- Pay per minute.
- Standard subscription per user
Audio conferencing pay per minute, which is only available as part of volume licensing, allows organizations to pay for all the Audio-Conferencing usage on a per-minute basis. All the inbound and outbound calls are charged based upon the standard pay per minute charges.
On the other end, Audio conferencing standard subscription license enables free dial in capabilities for toll numbers and 60 minutes per user a month for dial out to non-premium numbers in ANY of the Zone A countries. Thus, this license does not enable licensed users to place calls to any other non-Zone A countries within the pooled minutes. Those calls are separate, and any charges are counted against communication credits.
Minutes are pooled against an office 365 subscription are calculated at tenant-level and can be leveraged and shared by all the licensed users in the tenant. If a customer has purchased subscriptions for 500 Audio Conferencing licenses—with 400 users in the United States, 50 users in Australia, and 50 users in Dubai, then all 500 users share a pool of Audio-conferencing minutes. This is calculated as 500 users x 60 min = 30,000 minutes for conferencing dial-out minutes per calendar month. This may be used to place outbound calls to non-premium numbers in any of the Zone A countries. The minutes pooled for an Audio-Conferencing tenant is always based upon the licenses assigned to a user rather than total licenses available across the given tenant.
Call Charges are Calculated Against the Call Destination
The organizer’s country of residence, and the participant initiating the call, do not change the calling charges. Furthermore, calls placed between Zone A: non-Zone A and between non-Zone A: non-Zone A, they are always charged on a per minute basis against the Communication Credits rather than a minute pool for the tenant’s Audio-Conferencing.
To ease the burden of carrier calling charges and facilitate users struggling with internet connectivity, MS Teams Toll free conference number bridges the cost to the organization rather than the caller. All Toll-free conference calls are billed on a per minute basis in tenant Communication Credits and are never calculated against Audio-Conferencing minutes.
Communications Credits: Convenience to Pay for Audio-Conferencing and Calling Plan minutes
In laymen terms, these are a prepaid top-up amount across the tenant to be used for calls not included in Audio conferencing options.
Communication Credits Help Organizations Ensure Users Are Never Caught Without the Ability to:
- Add toll-free numbers to Audio-Conferencing meetings, auto attendants, call queues. (Toll Free Numbers are charged on a minute basis.)
- Dial out from an Audio-Conference meeting to add someone else from anywhere in the world or add your mobile or office phone in non-Zone A countries.
- Dial any international phone number when enabled only with Domestic Calling Plan subscriptions.
- Dial international phone numbers beyond what is included in a Domestic and International Calling Plan subscription.
- Dial out and pay per minute once the monthly minute allotment is exhausted.
- Dial out and pay per minute for all outgoing calls if you have a Pay-As-You-Go Calling Plan.
Communication Credits are specifically utilized for the below scenarios.
- Tenants enabled with Audio-Conferencing pay-per-minute.
- Enabling Toll-free Bridges across a given tenant, billed per minute.
- Dial-out calls exceeding Audio-Conferencing minutes per calendar month are billed per minute using Communications Credits at published rates to that destination.
- Dial-out calls to destinations not in the Zone A countries list are billed per minute using Communications Credits at the published rates to that given destination.
For users to leverage the Communication Credits across given Tenant, they are required to be assigned with Communication Credit license, which grant them access to the balance. The minimum amount of Communication Credit balance can be a minimum of $50. Setting up a toll-free number across a given tenant does require a positive Communication Credit.
Below is a quick reference diagram to understand the various types of meeting participant types and how the MS Teams calling charges are applied.
With a subscription to pay per license, Audio-Conferencing Dial-in capabilities are considered free of cost with Toll number. Zone A dial out users are considered with Tenant pool minutes. Non-Zone A Dial out users and users with toll free dial in are charged per minute from Communication Credits.
With only Audio-Conferencing pay-per-minute licenses enabled, the dial in calls with a toll conference bridge and Zone A dial out users are charged against Communication Credits (owing to non-availability of any polled minutes). Toll free dial in users and Non-Zone A dial out users total against Communication Credits.
In conclusion, Toll Free and Calling capabilities to Non-Zone A countries can come with a hefty financial consideration; hence, proper planning and stringent controls in place are required for tracking MS Teams calling budgets to ensure a seamless experience for the required users.
Sanjay Kumar Pendyala has a decade plus of experience across architecting, operations, and maintenance of Microsoft collaboration and cloud Technologies. Currently serving as an Infrastructure Architect with Cognizant Technology Solutions, Sanjay Kumar has a technical expertise across architecting and administration of SharePoint On-premises, Azure IAAS/PAAS, Microsoft 365 (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Teams, Azure AD, Yammer, Power Automate platform, Graph API automation), and he has been working for a few fortune 500 clients.
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.