Expanding the reach of Skype for Business meetings

Expanding the reach of Skype for Business meetings and voice services in Office 365

By Zig Serafin as written in 2016 on blogs.office.com

Three months ago, Microsoft launched Skype for Business Cloud PBX, Meeting Broadcast and PSTN services to provide a complete meetings and voice experience in Office 365. Already, thousands of Office 365 customers are using these services, and many more are trialing them. Today, we’re announcing our first major geographic expansion of these services; new support for hybrid deployments; new, modern meeting room solutions; and improvements to our unified reporting, management and analytics.

PSTN Conferencing available for purchase in 32 countries

As of March 1, 2016, customers in 17 additional countries—Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia and South Korea—can buy dial-in conferencing as part of their Office 365 subscription. Now customers in 32 countries total can simplify their infrastructure using Skype for Business Online for all of their meeting needs, and take advantage of flat-rate, per-user, per-month pricing to simplify budgeting and accounting for conferencing services. Our PSTN conferencing service will include local dial-in numbers in more than 60 countries by the end of this month and nearly 100 countries by the end of June.

New Cloud PBX features and general availability of the Cloud Connector Edition

We’re also pleased to announce that the new Cloud Connector Edition of Skype for Business Server will be generally available starting in April. All versions of Skype for Business Server allow customers worldwide to use Office 365 Cloud PBX with the carrier calling services of their choice, and the new Cloud Connector Edition allows customers to quickly connect existing phone lines and phone numbers to Office 365 by delivering these proven hybrid capabilities as optimized, pre-configured virtual machine images. This summer, we will deliver a preview of our new virtual Organizational Auto Attendant in Cloud PBX, enabling customers to use Office 365 for automated handling of business calls and using speech recognition.

PSTN Calling Preview outside the U.S.

Starting in May, we will offer a preview of Skype for Business PSTN Calling services in the UK. With the preview, customers in the UK will be able to trial number acquisition and assignment, inbound and outbound calling, voicemail and other features—all provided by Microsoft and seamlessly integrated as part of Office 365. Office 365 customers in the UK can register for the preview today at the Skype Preview sign-up page.

Project Rigel—bringing the Skype Meeting experience to every meeting room

Over 97 percent of meeting rooms are currently equipped with traditional projectors or displays and only a telephone for including remote participants. But for meetings to be as effective and engaging as possible requires web and video conferencing with features like screen sharing, IM and whiteboard. Without these capabilities, people lose the benefits of rich interaction, remote participants have a sub-optimal experience and the whole team is less productive due to longer meeting startup times.

Today, we are announcing an initiative, codenamed “Project Rigel,” to address this problem. Project Rigel will bring a Skype Meeting experience pioneered on Microsoft Surface Hub to nearly any meeting room with a display or projector. It will use Windows 10 devices for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business online meeting technology to easily connect remote users. Hardware partners including Polycom and Logitech will certify elements of their portfolios for use with Project Rigel systems, including the Polycom RealPresence Trio and CX5100, and Logitech ConferenceCam Connect, ConferenceCam GROUP and PTZ Pro Camera. Logitech also plans to deliver a purpose-built smart dock for Project Rigel to seamlessly connect the system elements in a meeting room, while Polycom plans to deliver a portfolio of complete Project Rigel systems. We expect the first systems based on Project Rigel to be available in the second half of 2016.

Connecting traditional video teleconferencing systems to the Office 365 Meeting experience

Roughly 3 percent of meeting spaces today include traditional video teleconferencing systems, or VTCs, from Cisco, Polycom and others. We’re pleased to be working with Polycom on two new efforts to extend the Skype Meeting experience to these dedicated video endpoints. First, Polycom will provide an update to its RealPresence Group Series products, which will add both Office 365 integration and a user interface consistent with the Skype Meeting experience. Second, Polycom will provide a Cloud Video Interoperability service, hosted in the Microsoft cloud, which will enable a wide range of existing VTCs, including Cisco and Polycom systems, to connect to Skype for Business meetings in Office 365 and will include audio, video and content interoperability. We will work closely with Polycom to ensure that Office 365 customers can easily take advantage of this service. Both offerings are expected to be available in the second half of 2016.

Through these innovations, we will deliver with our partners a complete range of video conferencing solutions based on Skype for Business in Office 365, establishing a new standard for cloud, hybrid voice and video capabilities for any business meeting room.

Unified management, reporting and analytics for enterprise communications

Finally, in keeping with our goal to make the Skype for Business management tools powerful and easy to use for IT professionals, we will add powerful management, reporting and analytics tools to our communications cloud in the second half of this year. IT admins will be able to understand usage patterns, analyze call quality and quickly troubleshoot issues in both cloud and hybrid Skype for Business deployments via a single pane of glass within the Office 365 admin portal.

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