Microsoft Teams Calling Plan vs Direct Routing (2021)

Microsoft Teams exploded in popularity as a phone system platform last year, a trend that continues in 2021. While Microsoft Calling Plans introduced cloud telephony to Teams, experts predict that 90% of enterprises will choose Direct Routing over Calling Plans by 2022. Why are business leaders consistently choosing Direct Routing over Calling Plans? 


Microsoft’s workplace collaboration platform, Teams, took the world by storm in 2020 and continues to do so in 2021. Thanks to Calling Plans and Direct Routing, two cloud telephony options within Teams, the platform became the right solution at the right time as companies worldwide adopted virtual communications in response to remote work requirements in 2020. Today, Teams isn’t just a place to chat and share files internally. It’s one of the world’s most popular virtual phone system solutions for companies of all sizes, and optimizing Teams for business phone needs is a top priority for business leaders. 

How are organizations getting the most out of Microsoft Teams as a business phone solution? For one, they increasingly opt for Direct Routing over Calling Plans in Teams. In fact, industry analysts predict that 90% of enterprises using Teams telephony will use Direct Routing by 2022. But why Direct Routing over Calling Plans? Since you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already implemented MS Teams or have decided to do so. Let’s explore your Business Voice options in Teams and why companies increasingly choose Direct Routing.

To set up Teams for external calling, you need to connect your Microsoft Phone System to the public telephony network (PSTN). That requires you to configure Teams Calling Plans or to set up Direct Routing, which is done with your choice of direct routing partner. 

Calling Plans

Microsoft Teams users can make internal calls to other team members, but your Microsoft Phone System must be connected to the PSTN network before you can use Teams for external calling. 

The first method for connecting Microsoft Teams to the PSTN network is through Microsoft’s own cloud-based Calling Plans, also called Microsoft business voice. With a Teams Calling Plan, Microsoft acts as your PSTN carrier for all internal and external calls. Each Teams Calling Plan includes a phone number for receiving inbound calls and a pool of minutes for outbound calls. Calling Plans are charged per-user, per-month. Microsoft offers Domestic Calling Plans or Domestic and International Calling Plans.

While these calling plans are a quick and easy way for smaller firms to connect to the PSTN network, there are some drawbacks in terms of coverage, cost, and support.

Calling Plans in Teams are business voice bundles provided by Microsoft. They include a user’s phone number and a package of minutes for calls.


Direct Routing

Direct Routing is a Calling Plan alternative where you connect your own preferred carrier(s) to your Microsoft Phone System. With Direct Routing, your Teams Phone System is connected to the PSTN network via SIP trunking with your preferred carrier. Like Calling Plans, Direct Routing makes it possible for your users to handle external calls from anywhere with an internet connection.

Direct Routing allows companies to choose voice plans from other carriers to use with Teams. Unlike Calling Plans, which gives Microsoft a monopoly over your voice service, Direct Routing opens up a world of options for your voice plan. 


Direct Routing vs Calling Plans in Teams

More organizations using Calling Plans means more revenue for Microsoft. So why does Microsoft offer Direct Routing as an alternative to Calling Plans? The answer is simple. While Calling Plans work fine for smaller companies with light calling requirements, most organizations require more advanced voice features and service-level agreements to meet their communication needs. If Microsoft didn’t allow connections to dedicated voice services, Teams wouldn’t be a viable solution for many of their existing customers. 

So, what are the differences between Calling Plans and Direct Routing in Teams? Today we're breaking down the top reasons companies prefer one or the other.

Calling Plan Countries & Virtual Phone Number Options

One of the most common complaints about Teams Calling Plans you see online is the lack of virtual phone numbers available for inbound calls. While international Calling Plans allow Teams users to make outbound calls around the world, you can only set up international virtual numbers for inbound calls in Calling Plan countries. The narrow range of number types available in Calling Plan countries is another reason cited by growing and established companies that choose Direct Routing. 

Microsoft offers Calling Plans in 26 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic (Czechia), Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. 

Third-party Calling Plans are also available for Australia and Japan. Teams also allows you to configure toll free numbers in a handful of countries, which they call “service numbers.” 

So for businesses with small-to-moderate international calling needs within a handful of countries, Teams Calling Plans do provide some flexibility. Organizations that need a larger coverage area and/or superior voice services within those regions opt for a Direct Routing provider that specializes in such services, like AVOXI (shameless plug incoming). Direct routing with us allows admins within Teams to provision virtual phone numbers from 170+ countries with just a couple of clicks. That includes local, toll free, and non-geographic numbers available in most countries where such number types exist. Learn more about provisioning virtual phone numbers from 170+ countries in Teams →


International Dialing & Caller ID in Teams

International calling with Teams gets tricky when relying on Calling Plans. While you can make outbound calls to virtually any country you need to, call quality is spotty and outbound caller ID is rarely guaranteed. Poor voice quality during business calls is frustrating for customers and agents alike, and good luck trying to get international customers or prospects to pick up the phone without local caller ID options!  

Companies that consistently make or receive international calls usually choose Direct Routing over Calling Plans. Direct Routing with a carrier that specializes in international calling comes with several benefits; one of the most popular examples is local caller ID in the regions your team dials most frequently. Services like AVOXI TrueLocal numbers allow Teams Phone System users like you to take advantage of local caller ID in massive markets like Australia, China, Japan, South Africa, the UK, and so many more! See how to use local caller ID during outbound calls in Teams →

Business Voice Features & Analytics

Microsoft’s Business Voice offering includes domestic calling plans with 3,000 minutes per user, dial-in audio conferencing for up to 250 people, remote calling through any device with the Teams application, and a set of standard cloud phone system features. Standard phone system features include call transfer, multilevel auto attendant, and call queues. 

Since Direct Routing is simply a connection with your own voice service, the features included depend on your arrangement with that carrier. In other words, Direct Routing is your path to any type of voice solution you need to accomplish your goals with MS Teams. 

For example, Direct Routing with AVOXI provides you with standard voice features as well as advanced call routing, call recording, local caller ID, detailed analytics, and many more services not included in a Teams Calling Plan. 

Cost of Calling Plans vs Direct Routing

Companies that opt for Direct Routing in Teams sometimes expect higher telephony costs as the tradeoff for improved call quality and a more advanced set of voice features. In reality, Direct Routing costs less than Calling Plans in most cases. At least, that’s what we find for most companies that set up Direct Routing with us. 

Organizations of all sizes are likely to enjoy lower rates with a third-party provider than with Microsoft’s Calling Plans. That’s because having one contract rather than separate contracts for each regional carrier allows organizations to achieve economies of scale. Using one global provider with a centralized pool of call minutes allows enterprises to eliminate wasted minutes or avoid topping up maxed out individual accounts.

At the end of the day, Microsoft has made it clear that they aren't trying to become major player in the telecom game. That's why Direct Routing exists, after all. Microsoft is happy to concede cloud telephony services to Direct Routing partners while they focus on the collaboration features and applications that make Teams the popular platform it is.

Implementation, Configuration, & Ongoing Support

Another common issue with Calling Plans is the level of support offered by Microsoft. While Teams users have access to 24/7 support, that’s a small part of the equation. The telecom industry is complicated, and while nobody wants to be troubleshooting issues with call quality, it's a lot easier (and less likely to occur) when you work with a dedicated Direct Routing partner.
Microsoft is not trying to become a major player in telecom solutions. If you’re experiencing a genuine network issue with a Calling Plan, the odds of reaching someone at Microsoft who can diagnose the problem and help you right then and there are slim

You’re less likely to experience such issues with a dedicated Direct Routing partner. But if you do, you’re more likely to reach someone who can help you right then and there when you report it. On top of that, a Direct Routing partner that is also a Microsoft certified SBC provider can guide you through implementation, provide ongoing training, and triple check each step of your configuration to ensure things go smoothly. 

Finally, a managed service provider can offer additional support and expertise to plan the migration and get employees up-to-speed with Microsoft Teams. While Microsoft has resources for implementing its Calling Plans, it’s very much a do-it-yourself solution. That’s why Direct Routing, though it may sound more complicated, is often easier to implement with support from a provider that already has a Microsoft-certified SBC solution in place. 

Pro Tip: Choose a Direct Routing Partner That Makes It Easy

Direct Routing is meant to be a simple, straightforward alternative to Teams Calling Plans.  So if you're in the market for a Direct Routing provider and aren't sure what to expect for implementation, here's a pro tip from us: Choose a Direct Routing partner that makes your job easy. That means choosing a provider that manages your SBC configuration, walks through each step of implementation with you, and offers 24/7/365 support on top of delivering the world-class voice service your business deserves. 

Discover How Easy Direct Routing Can Be

Don’t settle for the narrow country coverage, limited voice features, or expensive call rates that come with Microsoft Calling Plans. Direct routing unifies your Teams phone system with AVOXI’s world-class voice network. Provision virtual phone numbers from 170+ countries instead of 28. Configure advanced call routing rules, manage call recordings, set up local caller ID, and take advantage of many more advanced voice features within Teams. 

No setup fees, no minimum contract. Just exceptional voice service with 24/7/365 dedicated support.

See How Direct Routing with AVOXI Compares to Microsoft Calling Plans

Talk to us today to see the AVOXI platform in action and get answers to your questions about Calling Plans and Direct Routing for Teams!