Yesterday, on December 1, Microsoft debuted the new Office 365 Enterprise E5 Plan.
I you’ve seen any of the prior announcements, you saw that E5 replaces E4 (though E4 is still available until June).
Why am I talking about this here? Simple. The new E5 plan includes not only Skype for Business, but some of Microsoft’s new hosted services: Cloud PBX, PSTN Conferencing and Meeting Broadcast.
These have existed in beta for a while now. And hotly anticipated—I mentioned them back in May! E5 is their big debut. Starting today, we’re all about to put them through their paces.
First, let’s review the new Skype for Business services in E5. Get a solid idea on what to expect.
The Skype for Business Services Added in E5
- Cloud PBX: Cloud-based call management. Acts as a replacement for on-premise PBX systems. No need to manage a dedicated Enterprise Voice server.
- PSTN Conferencing: Meeting attendees can dial in from almost any device. It even lets organizers dial out and pull attendees in – very handy if someone’s having connection issues. Or forgot the meeting was at 11!
- Meeting Broadcast: Create virtual meetings you can broadcast online for up to 10,000 attendees. (Really not sure why you’d want 10,000 people in 1 meeting, but hey…)
- PSTN Calling: Lets you provision standard phone numbers for making & receiving traditional phone calls. No calling plan with AT&T or Verizon required.
Let’s clarify something here. The PSTN Calling service is listed as an “add-on” on the E5 features page. It’s NOT built into the Cloud PBX by default. You’ll have to pay an extra $12/month per user ($24/month if you want international calling). That said, if you want to use E5, I’d say PSTN Calling is a must-have.
What You Need to Know About E5
E5 licensing is more expensive than E3 and E4 (like you’d expect). It goes for $35/month per user, or $420 a year. Really not bad, with all the features you get.
Rollout is not complete internationally! The PSTN Calling service is only available in the U.S. right now. According to a Windows IT Pro post from Tony Redmond, PSTN Conferencing depends on local telecom deals, so it’s not available in some countries (like Ireland) just yet.
A free trial is available. Remember, you have a 30-day free trial option on this (and any other) plan. You can sign up for it right on the
Office 365 E5 Signup page.
The timing works nicely – it’s the last month of the year, and Microsoft is finishing up the E5 services. Try it out for December, make a decision to start off with E5 in January 2016.
The Side Effect: Third-Party Skype4B Support Becomes Harder
One caution I did want to point out. If these new Skype for Business Online services work out, it means more movement to the cloud, and away from on-prem.
For some businesses it means an easier adoption of Skype for Business. That’s great–an excellent benefit for those businesses. Plus it’ll save on telecom bills.
For others, it means a loss of control over operations – control they may have to keep in-house due to legal compliance. That’s a troublesome snag and may hurt adoption.
But the more serious issue is: Where does my support come from?
Expanding the Skype for Business Online service transfers the impetus of support back to Microsoft. Away from third-party service providers. Of course, many service providers do support Office 365 installations, and do a good job of it. But the more Microsoft moves systems back under their own roof, the harder it will be to provide high-quality support for them.
This does shape your support experience. Which is why I bring it up now. Make sure to consider where your support will come from, before you sign up for Office 365 E5.
Now, a positive note on which to end! These new capabilities fulfill the promise Microsoft made months ago – making Office 365 into a complete phone system. On top of all the Office apps we use every day.
Let’s see how well they work!
Have you tried any of the new Skype for Business Online features while in beta? What was your experience? Please comment or email.
Also, if you’re planning to use E5, let me know how well it works for you. I’ll do a follow-up post later this month if I hear back from enough people.