Integrations • Last Updated 4/24/2024

Direct Routing vs. Operator Connect

Explore the differences between two bring-your-own-carrier (BYOC) methods of connecting to the Microsoft Teams platform.


By Emily Bowen

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Since 2020, Microsoft Teams has emerged as one of the world's leading unified communications (UC) platforms. With over 250 million daily active users (DAUs), it’s become a powerhouse in the corporate world. Microsoft Teams was developed as an all-in-one communications suite that includes voice, video, and chat solutions. However, their native calling plan is limited in terms of global coverage and cost savings, which is why many businesses choose not to purchase a subscription to Microsoft’s calling plan, instead opting to bring their own carrier.

Adapting Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) calling for Microsoft Teams can be complicated for many businesses. Here’s where Direct Routing and Operator Connect come in—two distinct solutions that offer unique features and benefits to their users. In this blog post, we’ll explore the differences between these two methods of connecting PSTN to Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams connectivity options

Microsoft Teams has become more than just a messaging platform. Teams now offers voice and video capabilities; businesses can even use Teams as their primary business telephony solution. But with so many connectivity options, it can be confusing to know where to start. So let’s start with the basics:

What is a calling plan?

A calling plan is the native voice service from Microsoft built into Teams. With a calling plan, users can:

Make and receive calls to and from landlines and mobile phones. Create audio conference calls with up to 250 participants. Use features such as call forwarding, caller ID, and voicemail. Set up and manage audio conferencing and auto attendants. Access advanced features such as call queues, call park, and call transfer.

However, calling plans are limited in terms of global coverage and cost savings, so many businesses choose not to purchase a subscription to Microsoft’s calling plan.

Alternatives to calling plans

Fortunately, there are two alternatives to calling plans built into Teams: Direct Routing and Operator Connect. Direct Routing and Operator Connect work under a bring-your-own-carrier (BYOC) model, directly connecting your Microsoft Phone System to the PSTN. These alternatives allow you to use Teams as your primary business telephony solution, with advanced features like call forwarding, caller ID, and call recording.

Direct Routing and Operator Connect can help organizations save money and increase global connectivity compared to Microsoft calling plans. Depending on your business’s size and needs, one of these solutions may be a better fit than a native calling plan. Keep reading to learn more about each option.

What is Direct Routing?

Introduced in 2019 as the first alternative to calling plans, Direct Routing allows companies to use their existing telephony provider in Microsoft Teams for PSTN calling. This option is ideal for businesses that already have a PBX system in place but want to take advantage of the collaboration and productivity features of Microsoft Teams.

Direct Routing connects the customer's existing on-premises PSTN trunks or SIP trunks to the cloud-based Teams platform through a certified Session Border Controller (SBC) device. The SBC is responsible for secure media handling and connectivity between the customer's trunks and the Teams platform, as well as providing additional features such as call routing, call recording, and advanced call control.

While the Direct Routing setup is more technical than Operator Connect, it offers enhanced control over your calling. Users gain complete control over connections, DIDs, and call routing. Users can also integrate more complex calling features like call recording and speech-to-text technology.

Direct Routing also allows businesses to choose a hybrid or a fully-cloud-based PBX. While Operator Connect is a completely cloud-based solution, companies can integrate Direct Routing with on-premises equipment and existing SBCs. In addition, some providers will offer free certified SBCs to Direct Routing customers, further reducing costs.

Finally, Direct Routing allows businesses to use any telephony provider. Unlike Operator Connect, businesses can use any telephony provider with Direct Routing—including their current provider if they have an existing contract.

What is Operator Connect?

Operator Connect is a cloud-based BYOC solution for Microsoft Teams. It connects to the PSTN through a local service provider. Operator Connect allows users to make and receive calls to and from any phone number, including landlines, mobile phones, and international numbers. In addition, users can make and receive calls from the Microsoft Teams interface, eliminating the need for separate calling plans.

Businesses can choose a telephony service provider from within the Teams admin portal of Microsoft-certified operators. At a high level, organizations can set up Operator Connect more quickly than Direct Routing since it’s a less technical product.

With Operator Connect, businesses can:

  • Set up and manage numbers and connections from the Teams admin portal with little technical knowledge.
  • Deploy Operator Connect from the Teams Admin portal quickly.
  • Add new numbers and connections easily, with no knowledge of PowerShell required.
  • Run Operator Connect entirely in the cloud, no on-premise hardware required.
  • Choose a Microsoft-certified provider from within the admin portal

Unlike Direct Routing, only Microsoft-certified providers can offer Operator Connect. These providers must offer guaranteed support with shared Service Level Agreements (SLAs) from both Microsoft and your operator to help speed up troubleshooting.

Watch our Direct Routing vs. Operator Connect webinar

For a clear understanding of how to navigate Microsoft Teams telephony, watch our Teams and Telephony for IT Solutions Providers webinar. You'll learn when to recommend Direct Routing versus Operator Connect, the implications of PSTN replacement, and how to evaluate telephony providers.

3 things Direct Routing and Operator Connect have in common

Direct Routing and Operator Connect are convenient solutions for businesses looking to improve their communications. But what do they have in common? Here are three essential features both solutions offer.

1. Global reach

Microsoft Calling plans are limited to certain countries and localities. With Direct Routing and Operator Connect, businesses can quickly expand their reach and connect their global team by partnering with a global provider. This coverage allows businesses to connect with their customers and partners, regardless of location.

2. Cost savings

Businesses that rely heavily on PSTN calling could save up to 40% compared to Microsoft Teams calling plans by using Direct Routing or Operator Connect. While Direct Routing could offer more cost savings, Operator Connect can be a more cost-effective solution, especially for businesses without the technical expertise to integrate Direct Routing.

Operator Connect users can now simply their communications billing with calling bundles. Streamline your set up by choosing a bundle that best suits your business needs.

3. High-quality calling

Both Direct Routing and Operator Connect offer high-quality calling experiences to users. They leverage the PSTN to ensure reliable communication over long distances. Both Direct Routing and Operator Connect support advanced features like call transfer, call recording, and voicemail, which enhance the functionality of the services while still maintaining high-quality calling.

Additionally, both Direct Routing and Operator Connect support high-definition (HD) voice codecs, capturing a wider range of frequencies and providing superior call quality. HD codecs enable clearer and more natural-sounding conversations, which enhances the overall calling experience for users.

Overall, both Direct Routing and Operator Connect prioritize high-quality calling experiences, utilizing the PSTN and HD voice codecs to ensure reliable and clear communication for their users.

How to get started with Direct Routing

Telnyx is a Tier 1 carrier, which means it has direct access to major global telecom networks. Having access to major networks ensures that calls are always high quality, and Telnyx services are built on a private, multi-cloud network for redundancy and reliability. Our private, multicloud network allows businesses to make calls with confidence, knowing that their calls are always delivered with the highest quality.

Telnyx makes migration and management easy through its developer docs and the Mission Control Portal. If you’re interested in getting started with Direct Routing, Telnyx can help.

Reach out to our team of experts today to learn more.

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