Make Microsoft Teams your Phone System

Gamma Communications have officially launched Teams Direct Routing, allowing organisations which use Microsoft 365 to make Microsoft Teams your phone system.

Teams Direct Routing is a simple monthly bolt-on to Teams-enabled Microsoft 365 licenses, that allows the user to make or accept normal voice calls via the UK phone network.

But what about the actual… phone? Yes, end users can use either the Teams mobile app for their smartphone on iOS/Android, or their PC/Mac – however hardware manufacturers are surprisingly close behind: with Poly and others announcing hardware officially approved to operate a Microsoft Teams based phone system.

teams phones

Poly CCX Series Teams Phone Handsets

This makes Microsoft Teams a compelling choice as a full-business phone system, with call-routing, voicemail and many the other features commonly associated with work phones – available ‘through’ Teams.

Each user’s overall license package comprises three parts: two Microsoft elements including the user’s Microsoft 365 license that includes Teams, the ‘Phone system’ (PBX) bolt-on, and one from Gamma – the Teams Direct Routing Bolt-on itself.

teams phone system licensing

All this is backed by the remote-working flexibility of Microsoft 365’s cloud infrastructure and Trust Centre – better yet, the monthly cost of extending Teams in this way is a tiny fraction of the upfront cost of buying a traditional business phone system and unifies the user’s other key work communication tool (email) under a single account, calendar, and set of security permissions.

With a user-base of over 70 million daily active Teams users, Teams itself is a workplace juggernaut given extra momentum by the important need for home-working driven by Covid-19. Although Microsoft themselves also offer direct routing call plans that integrate with Microsoft Teams, these do not include the numerous extra functions extensively supported by telecommunications suppliers, such as flexible number porting, extra control over redundancy and business continuity plans, and other related considerations needed to better ‘manage’ an organisation’s communications.

Gamma, whose popular Horizon system operates nearly half a million UK business phone seats, are also giving every sign that Teams Direct Routing will also be the more cost-effective choice when compared to Microsoft’s own call plans.

Teams Direct Routing is likely to prove an extremely popular choice for companies seeking to modernise, and ‘get the most’ out of Teams. Take our advice: this one is going to be big.

 

For more information on Microsoft 365 and Teams, click here.

For more information on Microsoft 365 licensing, click here.

For more information on how Microsoft Teams can be deployed as a full phone system, please contact our team today.


The Ultimate Guide to Microsoft Teams

This week Microsoft Teams gained 12 million daily users, bringing the total to 44 million globally. During the past few days, Microsoft have raised cloud computing capacity by 600% to support this surge in demand for remote-working tools.  

If its all new to you, or you’re working from home for the first time – never fear! Lineal have assembled some of the best online Microsoft Teams resources to help users of all levels. 

We’ll update this ultimate guide to Microsoft Teams to include valuable new videos, examples and training materials as we discover them. 

 

The Basics 

teams quickstart

Intermediate 

teams training

Experienced 

 

Lineal are a Microsoft Gold Partner – for expertise and support, please contact our team today.


Gamma Roadshow 2020

We recently attended the 2020 Gamma Communications Roadshow at Stamford Bridge – hearing the latest business telecoms and technology trends from across the UK. But what do businesses need to be aware of?

 

Clock Ticking for ISDN

BT will officially turn off all ISDN services by 2025, with the ‘stop-sell’ order coming as early as 2023.

With UK businesses just getting used to putting ‘2020’ on paperwork, this is no longer a drill – if your phone system uses ISDN, your business needs to begin preparing to switch to a digital services such as SIP or better still, a hosted VOIP platform.

There are perhaps as many as 1.5 million ISDN channels still in use by businesses across the UK. Gulp.

 

Ultrafast Fibre Rollout Gathers Pace

Superfast broadband (‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ or FTTC) prices are falling all the time, but the big story of the decade is likely to be the steady roll-out of ultrafast ‘Fibre to the Premise’ to many more businesses – to around 40% availability over the next few years.

Salisbury is the first single-year rollout ‘test’ area trialling complete fibre infrastructure (booking a new copper line in the Salisbury area is likely to be rejected).

Interested in fibre for your area? Perhaps you should speak to your friendly neighbourhood IT provider…

 

Not all 5G is born equal

We’ve known for a while how the smallest of the UK’s four mobile networks (Three Mobile) is arguably in the best position to deliver data, although it’s now becoming clear Three has an enviable technical advantage over some of the other major providers – and is even using the cheeky marketing slogan: ‘If it’s Not Three, It’s Not Real 5G’.

The reserved spectrum range favours Three to such an extent that EE/BT, O2 and Vodafone have all submitted strongly worded complaints over preferential access. Gulp.

 

Microsoft Teams Telecoms Emerges

Among Gamma’s most exciting news was the announcement of a Direct Call Routing service for Microsoft Teams – which effectively plugs into the back of Teams and Microsoft’s ‘Phone System’ PBX add-on, to turn your Microsoft Teams software into a fully fledged business phone system.

teams phone

Until now Microsoft’s Teams platform has been a strong option for video/audio conferencing, screenshare, instant messaging and collaboration – but have always lacked the more robust business call-handling feature-set of true phone systems, or suffered from a shortage of physical handsets. With both of those challenges solved by Gamma and the Teams app available on a variety of devices, it’s easy to imagine Teams phones appearing on desks.

Direct Routing for Teams is expected from April 2020. The final pricing is likely to be somewhere in the region of between £15-25 a month per user (including Microsoft Office licensing) – finally unifying telecoms under the same single user account as Microsoft Office 365 hosted email, files storage, office apps and collaboration software. Watch this space.

 

For communications services and expertise, please contact our team today.


First Look: New Polycom VVX450

Communications giant Poly (nee ‘Polycom’) have launched their new VVX450 series phone handsets – and our team at Lineal have taken it for a test drive.

On first impression, the new handset is exceptionally eye-catching – the square design certainly feels modern and cutting-edge, if a little serious. All the controls will feel very familiar to users of the very successful VVX410 and VVX411 handsets, but the phone’s 4.3″ full colour screen is the most dramatic improvement – with a wider display and higher definition that appear much sharper.

Much like the VVX411, the menus and buttons are simple and intuitive – continuing the same focus on ease-of-use that has seen Poly sell VVX phones in the hundreds of thousands across the UK, into a very diverse array of business sectors.

We were particularly impressed by the speakerphone. Polycom have cranked the in-built speaker up to eleven, and the Polycom VVX450 could easily be used as a capable conference phone for a typical meeting room.

polycom vvx450

Someone may have been slightly over-ambitious with the phone’s size: desks may include less paper these days, but the handset feels large and space might be an issue in more traditional working environments. As before, the VVX450 supports single-cable (‘POE’) network and power, PC pass-through, headsets and more, but is noticeably larger than the VVX411 predecessor, itself a substantial handset. Overall, the impression is that the new model may look more naturally at-home on the desk of an executive, rather than an occasional phone user.

For power users, the new handset also boast some new extras, including two USB ports for media and/or storage applications. VVX450 handsets will be available to Lineal cloud-hosted business phone system customers from July 2019.

 

For Communications and connectivity expertise and support, please contact Lineal today.

 


Lineal Reviews: Plantronics Calisto 7200

Conference phones have traditionally had image problem. Costly, serious pieces of equipment, which often retail north of £350 for even a basic model, they feel inconvenient. Used infrequently, they’re sometimes more complicated than a telephone should be.

Worst of all, for all but the most established of businesses, a conference phone is a little… heavy-duty. Wired-in, with a large footprint, tangle of cables and strange satellite microphones – conference phones are an invasive species in the meeting room.

Enter Plantronics’ Calisto series – a curious pocket-sized invention (pictured) designed to bridge the gap between speakerphone and a true conference phone setup.

Four directional microphones (which can focus on sound from whomever is speaking) give 360 degree meeting-room coverage and efficient noise-cancellation to the Calisto range, which in a novel twist: is battery powered.

Plantronics, whose reputation for high build-quality audio equipment (particularly headsets) has been well-earned in the air-traffic control sector and moon landings, are increasingly reaching out with more accessible desktop telecoms hardware – even acquiring another successful Lineal communications partner: Polycom, back in March.

There’s a pleasing practicality to the Plantronics Calisto range: both USB wired and bluetooth connections are available to connect to either laptop, PC, tablet or your smartphone (in addition to USB wireless on other models.)

At only 270g, and just 11cm square, it’s small enough to be truly portable – tidied away into a desk drawer or moved to ‘create’ new meeting room spaces whenever needed. In the real world, where meeting rooms need to be swapped at a moment’s notice, why not just pick your conference phone up and carry it down the corridor?

For smaller and medium sized businesses where workspace might be limited, the Calisto’s ease-of-use helps present both a professional image, and finally makes conference calling into something within reach of everyone.

Previous models of Plantronics Calisto (including the 600 series) have been well received, and Plantronics has judged the small business market well. Expect great things.

 

For communications and IT expertise, contact Lineal today.


Android Chat app to (finally) challenge iMessage

Google have made public their plans to release a comprehensive Android Chat app, comprising of both SMS and a new rich communication standard (RCS.)

In an exclusive with the Verge, Android announced the new app, which looks distinctly like the direct challenge to Apple’s iMessage fans Android have been hoping for, and which will be able to centralise messaging under a single platform.

Unlike Apple users, content with the excellent iMessage, Android users have long been split among a variety of messaging apps. They must suffer SMS run via Android’s ageing ‘Messages’ app, and direct messaging spread out among video/IM hybrid Google Hangouts, world domination software WhatsApp, various invasive species of Facebook Messenger, the re-branded Microsoft Skype app, and Google’s own doomed chat app: Google Allo. It’s all a bit of a mess.

In addition to overhauling this, Android Chat will also be available from a desktop client with SMS abilities (much like iMessage) and include new rich communication standard style messaging familiar to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp users.

A single ‘feed’ encompassing rich content abilities also tracks the trend in the commercial sector: with firms looking to adapt from email to group-managed, millenial-friendly, cross platform communication apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams.

However, in addition to trying to build a fan-base for individual use, Google is presenting fresh opportunities for businesses. RCS has already been trialled by the tech giant in partnership with a number of companies (pictured), who plan to evolve currently SMS-based messaging services into RCS based customer service that integrates more complex tasks, such as calendar bookings and imagery.

Google Allo ran out of steam around 50 million installations. Whether, like iOS, Android can finally centralise disparate systems under a kingmaker will soon be tested.


Are Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business about to merge?

Are Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business about to merge?

Teams and Skype for Business – Microsoft’s two key communication applications may be about to merge, following a series of leaked hints from the Office 365 message centre.

Microsoft Teams – Redmond’s answer to easy-use messaging and group sharing apps for business (think Slack, or Basecamp) that have seen massive growth in popularity, already looks visibly similar to the Skype for Business client on Mac, and it’s easy to imagine the two becoming a single, powerful unified communications product.

teams

Quite whether Skype for Business or Teams would be cut is an interesting dilemma. Despite a slow start, Skype for Business has proved very successful in the telecoms world – expanding to cover video conferencing, Outlook calendar integration and other established business functions, whilst Teams is still in its early stages.

Microsoft Teams though is clearly closer in concept and execution to the ‘appy’, casual platforms that, quite frankly, Microsoft wishes it was as cool as. This is also where the unified communications industry is heading generally: mobile friendly, cross channel communication apps with unimaginable technical wizardry happening unseen in the cloud.

Believe it or not, Slack has been around since 2013. Basecamp even longer. ShoreTel recently announced the new ShoreTel app, replacing their old mobility client with a mobile friendly, cross-platform, cloud-based, messaging and VOIP collaboration platform. Microsoft (traditionally very slow to any new party) must surely arrive eventually.

This is in part because the generation that have grown up with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger simply don’t see messaging and audio as separate realms, and are noticeably more open to the idea of a business application with something of the ‘look and feel’ of social media.

Merging the two makes excellent commercial sense for the unstoppable business behemoth that is Microsoft, and would park the tanks on several lawns at once.

 

Contact the IT and communications specialists – speak to Lineal today: 01271 375999


Phone Systems from Lineal: Hall of Fame

Perhaps no industry moves faster than the world of telecoms, with traditional business PBX phone systems looking increasingly ancient on the wall.

At Lineal we’ve been impressed at just how quickly technology has advanced to support far greater user mobility, more flexible deployments, wider integration and dramatically lower costs.

Businesses (and other organisations) have more choices open to them than ever before – we look at 3 of our favourite options that make much more sense than struggling on indefinitely with prehistoric communications.

 

ShoreTel Connect

ShoreTel’s on-site phone systems have been some of the best for years, and their Connect platform continues to impress.

Connect is available as either a feature-rich and scalable ‘on-site’ system (more familiar to a normal enterprise workplace), or in the cloud (an option increasingly popular with the sub-25 user smaller business market looking to avoid heavier upfront expense or where users are split across multiple offices.)

The Californian company’s handsets are simply the best we’ve ever seen, durable and well-built with clear and effective controls. The noise cancellation built into every handset is so effective it has to be experienced to be believed.

Yet it is ShoreTel’s software (intellectual property so well regarded that telecoms behemoth Mitel has spent several years manoeuvring to purchase the entire company) where the real innovation lies.

A cross-platform, smartphone friendly, cloud-based collaboration and instant messaging unified solution more akin to Slack, Basecamp or Microsoft Teams, ShoreTel takes everything to a whole new level of integration. The onscreen client for Windows/Mac is already a superbly intuitive piece of design, but is increasingly becoming part of a bigger software offering that feels identical across lots of devices and screen sizes.

This is unified communications where your phone system coordinates with technology across a business: not just a tool, but a truly high quality communications ‘solution’.

 

 

Gamma Horizon

For maximum flexibility and features at competitive pricing, look no further than one of the UK’s fastest growing business telecoms providers.

Gamma Horizon replaces your boxy on-site PBX with subscriptions to a virtual equivalent in a UK data centre, with VOIP handsets that operate over the internet. 4000 minutes a month are included as standard per phone, sufficient for even the most talkative callers using the cloud-based system.

This brings some major advantages: the phones themselves should work anywhere with an internet connection and power supply (router permitting) allowing one cohesive ‘system’ to cover multiple sites or home offices. The number of subscriptions can be increased or decreased to balance requirements against cost, or to fit with seasonal businesses. More complex features such as advanced call-routing, auto-attendant, smart-phone apps and scheduling are also available, and all the phones in a system will obey the configuration set in the online web portal, wherever they’re located.

Handsets connected to Horizon look and feel like any traditional phone systems in use, with Polycom’s business-like HD Voice hardware our recommendation (portable DECT and conference phones are also available.)

Calls between Gamma phones are free of charge, with other special deals available to Gamma broadband customers. The UK small/medium business sector appears to love the flexibility of Gamma Horizon, so it’s little wonder there are already more than a quarter of a million endpoints out there.

 

Skype for Business

Why pay for a phone on your desk? Sure, we all find something very reassuring about the heft of a piece of well-manufactured plastic, but when we so many people use laptops and carry smartphones anyway, many businesses will correctly reason that the extra expense is not *actually* mandatory.

Skype for Business is available as both a desktop and smartphone app – users can make or answer audio or video calls from either. Arguably the best thing about this software (’softphone’) alternative is that anyone already using Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium or Enterprise plans has it available to download and use via the cloud without extra charge.

Internal calls between users and instant messaging are free, and integration with Microsoft Exchange allows your Outlook calendar meetings to sync up with the on-screen client. Video conferencing is (surprisingly) smooth and reliable, even on low bandwidth connections, and with handy options for screen sharing and group meetings also available – again at no extra cost.

Add PSTN licensing however (for a fraction of a normal call plan), and Skype’s business version allows you to dial outside Skype for Business to any phone, becoming a fully fledged unified communications solutions and replacement for traditional phone systems.

Skype for Business is brilliant for dispersed teams, mobile-workers and anyone seeking a low cost collaboration solution. More advanced call-routing and auto-attendant options are still being developed, leaving Skype for Business still some way short of an enterprise phone system in the cloud for now, but for businesses looking for a cost-effective next-generation digital transformation, such an option could be ground-breaking.

… and for those who still find a soft-phone a step too far, Skype for Business can still be ‘plugged-in’ to many SIP desk phones or conference phones, for a more familiar call experience.

 


EU roaming charges end – what you need to know

Mobile phone charges for travellers within the EU officially end from today under a new EU Law.

Additional fees levied by mobile providers for cross-border calls (‘roaming’ charges) had been significantly higher – often catching out unsuspecting holidaymakers.

The end of costly EU roaming charges is widely credited as one of the EU’s most popular achievements, ending fees that the commission felt represented one additional cost barrier to cross-border communication. The agreement has not been without difficulties however, and the new regulation has taken 10 years to come into force.

However, as always with the EU, this welcome news for travellers comes with some specific caveats:

  • Users will still be charged high fees for data use (at around £8.30/GB, falling incrementally in future years), whilst standard calls and texts will remain at typical network pricing. 
  • EU roaming phones will be monitored for time spent on ‘home’ networks and ‘roaming’ networks to discourage phone users taking out a contract in a cheaper country and using it permanently in a more expensive country. If found not to be truly ‘roaming’, extra charges may still apply.
  • Call fees will still be higher for international calls made from the customer’s home country.
  • Countries in ‘Europe’ but not in the European Economic Area (EEA) will not be included in the agreement (including Switzerland, Serbia and the Channel Islands among others) nor will calls from cross-channel ferries and other satellite-linked areas.
  • It’s as yet unclear what will happen after Brexit.

 

For communications expertise and support, contact Lineal today: 01271 375999


Lineal reviews Skype for Business

reviews skype

Skype is probably the only brand name in video calling successful enough to have become synonymous with its purpose (try offering ‘Citrix’ to somebody and you’ll get confused looks.) It’s perhaps unsurprising therefore that Microsoft have taken their former Lync communications platform, and given it both an upgrade, new features, and a name with a better pedigree.

Enter Skype for Business, Microsoft’s newest unified communications offering for Windows, Mac and Android – available as a downloadable client or via a web browser. On the face of it, the potential in Skype for Business is enormous: calls, group meetings, directory lookups and instant messages between Skype for Business users are free-of-charge, making it a perfect internal communications platform in the cloud.

Skype for Business is already available to those using Microsoft Office 365 Business Premium as a free download. Users can connect, make audio/video calls and collaborate from anywhere in the world. VOIP packages are also available to allow calling ‘out’ to conventional phone numbers, presenting an affordable alternative to your old phone system.

We’ve found the video and sound quality to be exceptional (even on some poorer broadband connections.) For those on the move, a designated app is also available for your smartphone and tablet which, operating over your Wi-Fi or 4G connection, also extends the platform into the wider world.

Most reassuringly, Skype for Business need not just be a ‘soft-phone’ on screen but can connected to a traditional, physical, AudioCodes or Polycom VOIP handset on your desk.

That’s not to say that there are no shortcomings. Calling outside Skype requires the additional PSTN licensing which is likely to confuse those unfamiliar with Microsoft licensing. Skype’s website is not particularly helpful in this respect, with it sometimes being unclear when links refer to Skype, or Skype for Business.

Certain features that Microsoft originally advertised (such as the ability to take polls in group meetings) are also still in testing  on some platforms at the time of writing, although screen sharing and scheduled meetings already work smoothly and are very intuitive. Focusing on collaboration, these are sure to be fixed as Microsoft reviews Skype for Business.

The minimalist design is smarter and more formal than the original Skype and, whilst a little unfamiliar to begin with, the general ‘look’ of the platform is a noticeable improvement on both Lync and traditional Skype.

Skype for Business is not quite ready to take over the world just yet, but it’s certainly one to watch for 2017.

 

For unified communications support and expertise: contact our team today.


South West Among Worst Regions for 3G / 4G Mobile Signal

4g mobile signal

New data has suggested the South West is among the worst regions in the UK for poor quality 3G / 4G mobile signal.

Research by OpenSignal, in a pioneering coverage study using data crowdsourced from phones across the UK, reported the South West as among the worst three scoring regions for both 3G and 4G mobile signal availability (alongside Wales & Scotland). All three regions reported 3G availability below 80%.

Average 3G speeds of 11.48Mbps also placed the South West as one of the slowest in the UK, although 4G speeds were significantly better, possibly reflecting less intensive usage by comparison to urban areas.

Indeed, high availability of 4G signal in London appears to have resulted in the worst average speeds in the UK at under 19Mbps. OpenSignal attribute this shortfall to ’higher levels of congestion’ from data hungry users accustomed to reliable 4G signals.

Unreliable mobile signal availability and slow speeds presents serious challenges to those needing to work remotely or overly-reliant on cloud-based services for business continuity, although the study notes that some networks have significant plans to boost capacity.

For now, businesses in the South West seeking more reliable signals for mobile working should consider the installation of enterprise-grade signal boosters (available for both buildings and vehicles) or the much anticipated release of cost-effective ‘Multi-net’ on the new Gamma Mobile platform: permitting business phone users to automatically jump networks to help obtain signal, at no extra cost.

 

For unified communications expertise and support, contact Lineal today: 01271 375999


Exchange Server 2007 support to end in 2017

Exchange Server 2007

Lifecycle support for Microsoft’s Exchange Server 2007 email will end in April 2017, Microsoft has confirmed.

Existing email servers will continue to work past this date initially, but will receive no further patching without purchasing ‘custom support’ at an unknown extra cost. Each version of Exchange is predicted to last only around 10 years, with the 2016 edition lasting until 2025.

Exchange 2007 was included as part of Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 which went end of mainstream support last year. With the challenges of ensuring systems are secure, upgrading from SBS 2008 sooner rather than later will be the order of the day for many businesses.

Unfortunately, upgrading old copies of Exchange Server 2007 to Microsoft’s latest version of Exchange Server (2016) may be more challenging than many organisations will expect, as a direct migration is not available.

This forces users to stepping-stone via the 2010 or 2013 versions, a restriction that will be familiar to any business that has tried to upgrade a legacy Windows XP system to Windows 10, who must buy a redundant Windows 7 license just to make the transition.

The best alternative solution for many will be to abandon their on-site Exchange Server entirely and take the option with a much smoother transition: instruct a Microsoft partner to seamlessly migrate their email to Microsoft’s excellent Office 365 cloud offering.

Lineal can offer consultancy services for upgrade and migration planning in addition to being a certified Microsoft Partner. We specialise in Office 365 and hybrid deployments across the entire Microsoft product set.

 

Please get in touch to find out how easy and cost effective it can be to move your email to the cloud with Lineal.

 


WhatsApp Encryption Launches

 

Popular messaging app WhatsApp have launched end-to-end WhatsApp encryption for over one billion users.

The new security capabilities introduced by the Facebook owned company ensures that every message remains encrypted during transmission, preventing even WhatsApp from reading user data.

With encryption and technological privacy issues regularly appearing in recent news headlines, the WhatsApp encryption upgrade comes at just the right moment for the security concerned, after more than two years of delays in development across multiple platforms.

Much like during Apple’s recent legal dispute with the FBI, the move would also prevent the release of confidential user data following a court order. According to reports from the New York Times, the technology provider have been reported to already be in a longstanding dispute with the US Department of Justice over user data.

WhatsApp are making it clear they support absolute user privacy, with “not even WhatsApp” able to read the encrypted data, and users able to verify their connections are secure via a 60 digit or QR code swap.

From today, the WhatsApp conversation screen will now display an official notification to all users – confirming that their messages are encrypted successfully.

 

For hardware and software security advice – contact Lineal today.