One of the biggest takeaways from Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference this week was the announcement of its new E5 plan for Office 365.
In addition to Skype for Business (the new version of Lync) which brings updates to its’ audio and video and conferencing features, E5 will bring PSTN services to Office 365 users. In short, E5 will enable companies to have phone calls and audio conferences with users employing whatever kind of phone service they like – Internet-based, mobile or traditional PSTN land line – all from Microsoft’s cloud.
In a nutshell, Microsoft will essentially become a phone company.
What Does the new E5 plan bring?
“E5 will encompass the core value of the modern productivity and collaboration capabilities Office 365 provides today, as well as significant new capabilities including Skype for Business services for real-time communication such as Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing, new analytics features like Power BI Pro and Delve Organizational Analytics, and new advanced security features such as eDiscovery, Customer Lockbox, Data Loss Protection (DLP) and Advanced Threat Protection (ATP).”
A technical preview of Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing was actually announced July 1 in a blog post by Zig Serafin, corporate vice president for the Skype for Business team. Skype Meeting Broadcast, available to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide, enables broadcast of a Skype for Business meeting on the Internet to up to 10,000 people, who can attend in a browser on nearly any device. Skype Meeting Broadcast makes it easy to host large virtual meetings like internal “Town Hall” style meetings and public webinars. The preview includes integration with Bing Pulse, for real-time polling and sentiment tracking, and Yammer, to enable attendee dialogue during the broadcast.
PSTN Conferencing, available in preview to Office 365 customers in the U.S. now, allows people invited to a Skype for Business meeting in Office 365 to join the meeting by dialling in using a landline or mobile phone. This traditional dial-in capability is in addition to simple, single touch join options on PC, smartphone and browser, and allows people to join an online meeting even in places with no Internet access. PSTN Conferencing in Office 365 will also allow people to add others to a meeting by dialling out.
Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling, also available in preview to Office 365 customers in the U.S., provides people the ability to make and receive traditional phone calls in their Skype for Business client, and manage these calls with features like hold, resume, forward and transfer. This preview is built on the proven enterprise voice technology available in Lync Server and Skype for Business Server. Later this year, we will ship Cloud PBX for customers worldwide, with a configuration option for customers to use existing on-premises phone lines for inbound and outbound calling.
Those services, combined with all the audio and video conferencing services already included in Skype for Business, should cover the gamut of what most businesses may need for voice and video services.
Some of Microsoft’s “strategic partners” from the telecom world – including AT&T, BT, Level 3 Communications, Orange Business Services, Verizon and more – will offer direct connections to Office 365, through Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365. ExpressRoute offers two active physical connections to Office 365 for high availability, with Microsoft offering a 99.9% uptime SLA for its piece of the puzzle.
Office 365 E5 Pricing and Availability – Still to be announced
There was no mention of pricing for the E5 package at WPC, however we do know that Microsoft will price it aggressively relative to all the individual components as they will want people to adopt it and consume it. We know for example that Cisco’s price points on things like WebEx are significant – they make a lot of money from it and it’s the largest Web Conferencing provider on the planet. As such E5 wont be free, Microsoft will be charging for it. The delivery date for the package is likewise vague at this point, with Microsoft committing only to “later this year.” We also know it won’t be available outside the US for another 6-12 months at least. That said – it could be a game changer.
Rob Quickenden, Chief Strategy Officer at Cisilion