Microsoft introduced Microsoft 365 Business Voice as an add-on to its very popular Microsoft Teams platform early in 2020. Th is voice over IP (VoIP) add-on is available through Microsoft 365 or Microsoft 365 Business, previously known as Office 365. Some might dismiss it as a pared-down bolt-on VoIP solution for Teams, but we found both its features and Microsoft’s integration efforts to be excellent, especially with Teams, but also with the rest of Microsoft 365. Some unwieldy setup choices and a cap on both calling plans and users is most of what keeps this offering behind our Editors’ Choice winners in the VoIP category, including offerings like RingCentral Office and Intermedia Unite.
This product delivers all the features you would expect from a VoIP solution including auto attendants, call queues, group calling, and the added bonus of deep integration into the Microsoft ecosystem. However, the gateway to that integration must begin with Teams. Since Microsoft Teams has slowly worked its way into the critical productivity app category for many organizations, especially those coping with large numbers of work-from-home employees during the pandemic, this isn’t too harsh of a prerequisite. However, both Teams and Microsoft 365 will be factors when you calculate the solution’s overall cost for your organization.
Pricing and Plans
Still, we were pleasantly surprised by the breadth of Microsoft 365 Business Voice. As an add-on to Teams, you might expect it to focus mainly on software with an emphasis on mobile, but Microsoft took pains to make sure this platform would work in a standard office environment, too. To prove it, the company provided us with a Yealink MP56, a fairly standard SIP (therefore VoIP-compatible) desktop phone. While SIP support was key for this desktop phone, so was a Microsoft Teams certification. Microsoft has a list of Teams-certified devices on its website, and the company emphasized that this certification was important to ensure the best experience with Microsoft 365 Business Voice.
True to its word, setup was quick and it connected to our test Teams account with no issues. From the color panel on the phone you can see calls, a calendar with upcoming meetings, and voicemails. You can also enter events on your calendar right from the phone. Connecting to a meeting by voice takes just a few touches on the phone’s LCD touchscreen.
What this means for pricing is that in typical Microsoft fashion, you may have to upgrade more than just your VoIP system to get the best from Microsoft 365 Business Voice. You’ll need to start with a Microsoft 365 subscription and Microsoft offers a wide range of plan options for this cloud platform, starting at $5.00 per user per month. That’s for Microsoft 365 Business Basic, which includes Web and mobile versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Pricing for Microsoft 365 Business Voice is currently a single $20 fee on top of any Microsoft 365 plan. The two limitations start with the number of minutes, which is fixed at 3,000 per month. That works out to 50 hours per month, which might sound like enough, but could easily be a factor for voice-heavy roles like customer support or sales. Microsoft should look to expand this constraint. The other limitation is number of licenses, which tops out at 300, making Microsoft 365 Business Voice a small to midsized business (SMB) solution only.
This means it can’t compete with enterprise-oriented offerings, like Editors’ Choice winner, RingCentral or Vonage Business Cloud, but instead seeks to compete with the likes of SMB-oriented offerings, like Intermedia Unite or 8×8 X Series. While Microsoft 365 Business Voice likely won’t compare that well against these SMB competitors on a purely price-oriented level, for companies looking to use, or already using, Microsoft 365 Business, its integration and ease of implementation will likely make it an extremely attractive option.
One thing that gives Microsoft 365 Business Voice a leg up is its partnership with Microsoft Teams. As you might expect, Teams has received a huge amount of interest recently due to the many companies supporting work-from-home scenarios during the pandemic. Teams and similar platforms, such as Slack, have become the inter-office communications backbone for many companies, so using that foundation for voice makes much more sense than when everyone was working in a centralized office space.
For existing users, adding the Microsoft 365 Business Voice option into Teams is a no-brainer. It just feels natural if you have used Teams for any length of time. Microsoft has a list of certified devices that work with the new calling feature. We tested it with Yealink UH36 USB Wired Headset and found it more than adequate. Calls made through Teams with this headset were clear and crisp even on a non-segmented network.
Having direct access to your contact list from Microsoft Outlook increases convenience and productivity when you need to connect with someone outside your company. Just a single click or button press on your desktop handset can initiate a call or Teams conference. For contacts inside your company you now have a wide range of options for communication. The presence indicator saves time if you just need to exchange a quick chat message with a coworker.
The Microsoft Teams mobile client handles everything the desktop client does from your phone or tablet. We tested teams on both an Android phone and Apple iOS using an iPad Pro. Both experiences were well-designed for these respective operating systems, and while they didn’t have all the functionality of the desktop client, they delivered what you would expect from a mobile platform and did so in a consistent way across operating environments. The key here is making it possible to continue your work communications on a personally-owned device, which is certainly doable using Microsoft 365 Business Voice.
All administrative functions happen from the admin.teams.microsoft.com website. With the administration page open, you have access to all the features you need to administrate an instance of Microsoft 365 Business Voice for a midsized organization, including user management, control over feature access, and reporting. Microsoft adds their experience with security and policy-based functionality to provide granular control over different features and which users get access. This same policy-based approach is used to grant control over things like meetings, live events, and conference bridges.
Creating a call attendant consists of answering a series of questions to set the default actions for each function. This includes prescribing a call flow to determine how each call will be answered and handled. Options include playing an audio file or specific message. Next comes the actual menu of options from which callers may choose. Unfortunately, we found that setting business hours is much more tedious than in most of the other products we looked at, notably those that are ease-of-use-focused, like Freshcaller, as you must set the start and end times individually for each day of the week.
Reporting capabilities include the standard call usage and call quality reports you need to gauge the performance of a VoIP system. The Call Quality Dashboard is a separate part of the Teams administration function with both standard default reports and the ability to create your own. Links to Microsoft’s Power BI platform using the Microsoft Call Quality Connector present an opportunity to go deeper into your organization’s voice data metrics than most of the other products in this review.
Microsoft offers a broad spectrum of applications that integrate into Microsoft Teams. While the majority of these are not voice related, they do demonstrate the flexibility of the platform to integrate with other applications. Microsoft has a long history of providing developers with the tools and APIs to add functionality into their platforms.
When you evaluate other vendors in the VoIP space you will find most providing some type of integration with Microsoft 365. That puts some pressure on Microsoft to ensure that its own solution would have the best integration with its own product, and it seems the company has worked hard to make that true. Teams fully supports other offerings like those from Atlassian and Salesforce. They also provide tools to evaluate specific workload and provide recommendations for roll-out and implementation.
Flexible But Not for Everyone
All that said, Microsoft 365 Business Voice is definitely not designed as a solution for everyone. This first iteration of the product is notably aimed at general-purpose VoIP for smaller organizations. Companies that are looking for a sales- or support-oriented solution with features like call parking, administration for large numbers of operators, or similar call center-style capabilities will wind up looking for workarounds as advanced versions of these features aren’t yet part of the solution.
On the plus side, because it has such deep integration hooks into not only the core apps of Microsoft 365, like Outlook and Word, but also the extended family of Microsoft productivity solutions, including Power BI and the various Microsoft development environments, rolling your own customized instance of Microsoft 365 Business Voice has many more options than you’ll find with most competitors. If you’re willing to put in some significant work, this platform presents significant customization possibilities on top of a fairly robust, general-purpose VoIP offering that’s easy to implement out of the box. Even if you’re not willing to put in the work, if your customizations aren’t overly individual then there’s almost certainly a Microsoft partner either willing to build them for your or already offering them as a value-add solution.