An Introduction to Direct Routing and How it Helps Your Business

How direct routing helps companies reduce call costs and promote stronger team collaboration

Direct Routing

Recent years have seen a radical transformation to the way we work. Empowered by modern technology, today’s workforces are becoming increasingly distributed as teams find new ways to stay connected and work together from afar. The tools driving these changes include Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and many more.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the new direct routing feature of Microsoft Teams, a leading team collaboration app that supports video and audio conferencing, instant messaging, file sharing, and document co-authoring. Direct routing adds the ability to connect your on-premises public switched telephone network (PTSN) for seamless integration with traditional landlines.

Here’s how direct routing works, and why it’s important:

What is direct routing?

Microsoft Teams has come a long way since its launch in 2017. Just six months after launch, the company announced it would fully replace Skype of Business as the flagship collaboration tool from Microsoft. From the outset, Teams was envisaged to be an all-in-one communication and collaboration platform for organizations of all types and sizes. As such, it supports multiple modes of communication, including video and voice calls and messages.

With the intention of making voice communication one of the most compelling features of the Microsoft Teams platform, the company adapted the solution to integrate with PTSN telephone networks. Thanks to direct routing, users of Microsoft Teams can now handle phone calls to and from the desktop office phone and mobile phone.

Previously, Microsoft Teams was exclusively meant for internal use. But with direct routing, it is now possible to make and receive business phone calls via the PTSN network. That means Microsoft Teams can now be deployed as a full-featured business phone system, and one that is much more affordable than conventional private branch exchanges (PBX) systems, especially those with on-site deployments.

Direct routing improves upon the Microsoft Calling Plans, which provide a similar functionality but can be expensive and lack flexibility. With direct routing, it is possible to connect Teams to third-party telephony providers to take advantage of lower call rates, better support, and greater flexibility. This offers an attractive opportunity to businesses that want to choose their own telephony providers while enabling complete integration with the Teams platform.

How does direct routing work?

Direct routing is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft Calling Plans, which requires you to still be under contract with an existing telephony provider. This means moving to a new calling plan can come with substantial penalties. Direct routing, however, allows you to bring your own carrier (BYOC), thus giving you greater control over calling costs.

Direct routing depends on a specific set of tools that manage the connection between Teams and your on-premises SIP trunk or PSTN. These setups consist of two key components – the session border controller (SBC) and the session initiation protocol (SIP) trunk:

  • The SBC is provided by a Microsoft-certified partner, like SmartChoice, to make sure that calling data is transferred to the right place. This provides an important extra layer of protection against data breaches and other threats. While SBCs were traditionally located on-premises, most are now cloud-hosted to provide improved reliability and flexibility, along with reduced costs.
  • SIP trunks refer to the connections between a business phone system, such as a PBX, the internet, and a traditional phone system (PSTN). You can think of a SIP trunk as a virtual version of an analogue phone line, allowing for seamless connectivity between internet-based calls, mobile networks, and landlines. It’s usually a lot more convenient to choose a provider that offers both the SBC and the SIP trunk, such as SmartChoice.

With this set up, voice calls pass through the Microsoft Teams client before they reach other participants. This means you only have to use one system to handle phone calls, albeit one that provides full support for both internal team collaboration and external calling via traditional landlines and mobiles.

Smart Direct Routing from SmartChoice provides tailor-made call path plans to help organizations keep costs to a minimum. For example, they can reduce operating expenses by making you pay for only what is needed versus purchasing individual calling plans from Microsoft on a 1:1 ratio.

Who should use direct routing?

Direct routing is designed primarily for organizations that have already achieved widespread adoption of Microsoft Teams and want to use it as a full-featured PBX. It is especially suitable for those needing greater flexibility than that afforded by Microsoft’s predefined calling plans.

For any organization that currently uses Microsoft Teams as its primary internal collaboration and communication platform, direct routing presents a clear advantage. It allows you to use a single platform for both internal and external communication, which means there is no need for a separate PBX and all the extra costs and maintenance requirements that come with it.

Organizations with limited in-house expertise, such as those with small IT teams or none at all, can also take advantage of direct routing by partnering with a provider like Smart Choice. This approach allows you to shift the burden of setup and account management away from your in-house team.

If you need more flexibility than Microsoft’s own calling plans can provide, direct routing can reduce costs and complexity by letting you bring your own carrier. This is especially important for organizations that make a large number of outbound calls, especially if many of those calls are international, to countries that would otherwise be very expensive to call under a Microsoft Calling Plan.

What are the benefits of direct routing?

The overarching goal of any digital transformation strategy is to leverage technology to create a more consistent and integrated approach to key business systems and processes. Unified communications (UC), though often overlooked, shouldn’t be an exception. In fact, numerous organizations still use a fragmented communications infrastructure comprising many different systems and platforms. These problems are greatly compounded in the case of organizations with multiple branches, and even more so in the case of global businesses.

Migrating to Microsoft Teams and taking advantage of Direct Routing offers a greatly simplified path towards achieving a robust UC infrastructure. Here’s how this can benefit organizations:

  • Flexibility: With a cloud-based deployment, it is possible for companies to easily add or remove Microsoft Teams user accounts as the workforce adapts to the constantly changing business environment. This is especially important in the age of remote work and hot-desking.
  • Simplicity: Direct routing makes it easier to consolidate your communications vendor relationships into one, instead of managing multiple local carriers. With a provider like Smart Choice, you only need one partner to oversee your entire UC deployment, and you can even port your existing numbers to your new cloud telephony platform.
  • Centralization: Standardizing your communications infrastructure also makes it easier to centralize IT support, streamline your compliance and security initiatives, and keep employee training needs to a minimum. Also, since the same user experience can be replicated globally, deployment times are much faster.
  • Reliability: Consistency and simplicity also improve reliability, simply because it’s far easier for IT teams to control and monitor their infrastructure. For example, the ability to monitor usage across the entire network lets administrators easily identify potential issues. Moreover, with a fully managed service like ours, you don’t even have to worry about administration either.
  • Cost reduction: The shift towards cloud-based UC systems and direct routing offers dramatic cost reductions, allowing your organization to create economies of scale by consolidating all regional telephony providers into one global plan. Even when UC isn’t mission-critical, it makes sense to migrate fully to Microsoft Teams to keep costs low and free up time to focus on other digital transformation initiatives.
  • Compatibility: Many organizations still depend on traditional telephony, such as fax machines, analogue phones, and other systems. Direct routing offers complete legacy connectivity so you can keep your telecoms assets working for years to come. With a phased migration, it is also possible to adopt a step-by-step approach to migrating your users either individually or in groups.
  • Call quality: Many SBCs can monitor traffic and optimize call routing in real time. For example, some providers may implement a media bypass that sends data from users directly to the SBC, instead of via the Microsoft Phone System. Since this shortens the path between callers and their recipients, it can also boost performance and quality. It can also reduce bandwidth, which is useful if you’re on a metered mobile network.
  • Availability: Microsoft Calling Plans are not currently available in a lot of countries, so if your organization has branches in certain countries, direct routing is the only other option available for using Microsoft Teams in place of a traditional PBX. Direct routing works everywhere since it connects you to the standard PSTN infrastructure.

Overall, direct routing is ideally suited to today’s distributed workforces. Even though millions of people were forced to work from home due to pandemic-related restrictions, it is safe to say that remote work is here to stay. While Microsoft Teams might have been hailed as a hero of COVID-19 lockdowns, it is also true that the pandemic has sparked a surge in technological development and digital transformation. Together, these initiatives will empower better team collaboration, enhance business adaptability, and reduce risk now, and in the future.

How can SmartChoice help?

SmartChoice provides the full range of UC tools and services you need for a fully integrated communications and collaboration platform. With Smart Direct Routing, you can make and receive phone calls on certified Teams devices and on your mobile phone through the Microsoft Teams app. Our solution lets you reduce costs by paying only for the calling paths you actually use, rather than purchasing the individual calling plans from Microsoft.

SmartChoice is a technology company based out of New York City with a unique portfolio of solutions including UCAAS, collaboration, software and analytics, dedicated contact centers, security, infrastructure, and managed connectivity. Through its unsurpassed white-glove service and 24x7x365 U.S. based support, it has grown to become one of the largest award-winning PBX/SIP providers in North America.  

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