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Microsoft signs up AT&T and NTT as Teams set to dominate enterprise voice

Abhijit Dubey NTT.jpg

AT&T and NTT, two of the biggest carriers in the world, have joined the move to Microsoft’s killer app, Operator Connect, as a way of delivering voice calls for enterprises.

The two companies – the first and fifth by revenue in the world ranking of telcos – said yesterday that they are launch partners for Operator Connect, Microsoft’s method of extending its Teams enterprise collaboration service to deliver dialled phone calls via the cloud.

They follow Colt Technology Services and Liquid Intelligent Technologies – formerly Liquid Telecom – which both announced yesterday that they have joined the cloud-based Operator Connect service.

Microsoft has previously named other telcos, including BT, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Rogers, Swisscom, Tata, Telenor and Verizon, as partners during the pre-release phase of Operator Connect, which began in March 2021.

But AT&T, Colt, Liquid and NTT are the first four to announce publicly that they are offering Operator Connect as a service to their enterprise users, as a straightforward add-on to existing Teams applications.

AT&T and NTT have annual revenue between them of US$279 billion – about 29% of the aggregate revenue of the world’s top 10 telcos.

It’s not yet clear what effect the introduction of Operator Connect will have on the global wholesale voice market. In January 2021 a report released by Research and Markets said that this market was valued at $23.17 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $53.74 billion by 2027.

Abhijit Dubey (pictured), who became global CEO of NTT earlier this year, said: “The pandemic has completely changed the way we work but has highlighted the importance of connectivity and communication. Operator Connect provided through NTT will allow businesses to connect and engage with their employees and clients no matter where they’re working from.”

At AT&T Business, Rich Shaw, VP of voice and collaboration, said: “When it comes to voice services, businesses don’t just want options, they want options that can create efficiencies and improve outcomes. By combining two leading services like AT&T Cloud Voice and Teams, we can deliver advanced capabilities while removing complexity to create better connections with employees and customers.”

AT&T said that “any business in the US can launch AT&T Cloud Voice for Microsoft Teams through Operator Connect”, apparently restricting access to the service by any non-US customers, though that is not yet clear.

NTT made no such reservation, saying that it will offer customers the service in 39 countries, adding that “Operator Connect provides carrier-grade telephony … with added extras such as compliance recording, dynamic E911 [emergency calling], call queue and video interoperability.

Dynamic E911 – named after the North American 911 emergency code – is a feature that detects the location of a caller so that calls to first responders can be directed to a call-handler in the right country.

That is potentially one of the most challenging features for services such as Operator Connect: a Teams user with a laptop travelling abroad can make calls, via their office phone number, as if they were in their home office – potentially thousands of kilometres away.

Microsoft still warns users of its Skype service, which it bought 10 years ago for US$8.5 billion, that it “cannot be used for emergency calling”.

Microsoft already had an enterprise calling service, variously called Lync, Office Communicator and then Skype for Business, before deciding in 2017 that it would phase out Skype for Business in favour of Teams.

Jared Spataro, corporate VP of modern work at Microsoft, said: “As a key strategic global partner, NTT has been an innovative and forward-thinking collaborator for Operator Connect. As we launch globally, NTT is already running the platform for several key clients and is providing high levels of advice, service, and support across 39 countries. We continue to strengthen our alliance to make real advances in how we take Teams Phone to market and enable the hybrid workforce.”

NTT’s Dubey added: “We’re proud to be strengthening our alliance with Microsoft and to be named as one of the first development partners to offer Operator Connect to Microsoft Teams customers. We also guarantee full lifecycle support services so that clients can enjoy a consistent and seamless experience.”

According to AT&T, Teams has nearly 250 million users worldwide, making Microsoft potentially one of the biggest international originators of voice over IP (VoIP) calls.

VoIP providers use a process known as session initiation protocol (SIP) to enable voice and unified communications. AT&T explained: “The enhanced technology combination [of AT&T Cloud Voice and Microsoft’s Operator Connect] gives business an easy way to harmonize existing SIP trunking and cloud communication solutions. This allows them to take advantage of global public switched telephone service (PSTN), simplified calling plans, tools to manage all lines and a web-based portal enabling 24/7 support services.”

NTT’s Dubey said: “We’re proud to be strengthening our alliance with Microsoft and to be named as one of the first development partners to offer Operator Connect to Microsoft Teams customers. We also guarantee full lifecycle support services so that clients can enjoy a consistent and seamless experience.”