Microsoft Updates Skype for Business with New Features

Microsoft on Monday announced that new Skype for Business features are now available.

The four features that reached "availability" status are PSTN Conferencing, Skype Meeting Broadcast, Cloud PBX and PSTN Calling. Microsoft's announcement stopped short of describing those capabilities as being generally available, so it's not clear how widely available they may be across markets.

Last month, "Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling" was described by Microsoft as being a single feature for use with Skype for Business Server deployments. It wasn't described as two features. It was at the preview stage back then, but Microsoft expanded its regional availability.

As a commercial release, the availability of these features, which Microsoft calls "add-ons," will depend. Per a Microsoft spokesperson, "Cloud PBX, PSTN Conferencing, Skype Meeting Broadcast and PSTN Calling [are available] as an add-on based on availability."

With the Cloud PBX feature turned on, Microsoft essentially "acts as your phone system," according to Jeremy Chapman, director of Office 365, in a Microsoft video on the topic. It's a PBX replacement solution that lets IT pros assign phone numbers to end users. IT pros can assign personal phone numbers or conference call numbers. The numbers can be new ones or existing phone numbers can be ported. The assignment takes place using the Office 365 admin console. IT pros select the phone numbers from a list and then have 10 minutes to assign them. Once the numbers are assigned, there's no need to confirm the assignment with the phone company, according to Chapman. Assignments also can be done in bulk using PowerShell. The system works with international phone numbers, too, across 45 countries, Microsoft claims.

The PSTN Calling feature lets organizations assign phone numbers that will work for Skype calls across various device types, including "VoIP phones, PCs and mobile devices" according to a Microsoft article. The PSTN Calling feature is designed to support various calling services, such as hold, transfer and call forwarding. In October, at the preview stage, Microsoft indicated that some of those calling capabilities were yet to come, such as "number portability" and "voicemail." Possibly, those capabilities are available today but it isn't clear from the announcement.

The PSTN Conferencing feature is designed to permit end users with landline or mobile phones join conferences using the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Microsoft hasn't published much information about PSTN Conferencing, although a article described it as an "add-on feature for Skype for Business Online" that also can work with hybrid Skype for Business solutions, although only the online users will be licensed to use it.

Chapman's announcement indicated that "Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing are included in Office 365 E5 [subscriptions] or can be purchased standalone." He also promised that Microsoft would be expanding the availability of those features "in the coming months" so it's somewhat clear they aren't generally available yet.

Office 365 E5 subscriptions will be the top offering from Microsoft, replacing the current E4 plan. The E5 offering won't be available until Dec. 1, priced at $35 per user per month. It will add feature support for Delve Analytics, Power BI Pro and Equivio Analytics for eDiscovery, along with Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing for Skype for Business.

The Skype Meeting Broadcast feature that's now available was rolled out as a preview back in July. Microsoft has indicated that Skype Meeting Broadcast can support online meetings of up to 10,000 persons. In addition, administrators can turn on social media interactions for participants, if wanted, and their responses can be aggregated into charts for audience analysis. This Office 365 and Skype for Business Online feature requires having a "Cloud Meetings Enhancement license" in place, according to Microsoft's description. Information about this license appears to be difficult to find, though.

Microsoft also indicated today that it is releasing some other Office 365 capabilities not associated with Skype. The new additions include Delve Analytics, Power BI, Customer Lockbox, Advanced eDiscovery and Advanced Threat Protection. Possibly, the company just means that it updated those services under its Office 365 E5 subscription offering since most were released months ago -- or a year ago in the case of Power BI. However, the Customer Lockbox and Advanced eDiscovery features actually aren't available until tomorrow, Dec. 1.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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