Microsoft Teams: What's the Difference Between Operator Connect & Direct Routing?

Microsoft Operator Connect and Direct Routing give businesses the power to incorporate PSTN calling to Microsoft Teams. This blog post provides an overview of both technologies, including the benefits and drawbacks of each.

June 30, 2021

In recent years, Microsoft Teams (Teams) has become the go-to tool for video calls, chat, voice calling, and collaboration. Direct Routing and Operator Connect are two capabilities Microsoft launched to evolve Teams into a business phone system. Below is an overview of both telephony tools, starting with Direct Routing.

Direct Routing Benefits

Direct Routing lets you make and receive calls on MS Teams by linking the platform with the public switched telephone network (PSTN) via an approved partner like Intrado. You can call anyone, even if they don’t have a Teams-enabled device. 

In addition to gaining voice capabilities, Direct Routing offers several other key benefits.

1. Select Your Preferred Provider

With Direct Routing, you can customize your Teams experience by choosing a Microsoft Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) to power calling. Microsoft has preselected providers that organizations can choose from based on their different operational needs. And while your provider should offer some technical support, you won’t need to rely on them to manage on-prem hardware since everything is handled through the cloud. Direct Routing’s cloud basis makes it easy for you and your team to manage call usage and updates after you adopt the solution. 

2. Improve User Experience Compared to an On-Premises System

Direct Routing through Teams creates a consistent user experience with a single, integrated platform. Your team can call, message, collaborate, and share files all in one place—without having to switch providers or move from one platform to another. Everything happens in the same place. The CSP selected helps you make the experience suitable for your business’s communication needs. Intrado, for example, offers training and resources to ensure users are familiar wit Teams’ functionality, which can boost wider usage across the company.

3. Save on Deployment and Usage

Simply put, Direct Routing helps you optimize your IT spend. You’ll pay less in carrier fees because regional carriers are linked together in one plan. You also save money on hardware and related maintenance costs since the solution doesn’t require additional infrastructure. By blending services into one cloud-based platform, you eliminate line items on your budget for expenses associated with legacy calling systems.

call usage, IT budget, Direct, Routing
Make the most of your IT budget with Direct Routing.


4. Access More Reliable Hosted Voice

Reliability with voice calling is essential, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality to get a streamlined, cost-effective solution. Direct Routing adoption means you’ll have access to a trusted Microsoft partner that gives you carrier-grade services and call quality. Porting existing phone numbers is also possible through Direct Routing, so switching systems and managing the transition to Direct Routing is simple. This capability also lets you keep the numbers your customers know and trust while avoiding service interruptions and customer confusion.

Direct Routing Challenges

Although there are clear Direct Routing benefits, there are also some potential challenges. Direct Routing is for Teams customers only, so you can only take advantage of its benefits if your team purchases the collaboration tool. The feature might not make sense if your company only uses Teams for internal collaboration and none of its other built-in resources. If you fall into this category, you’ll want to avoid paying for more than you need.

Also, because Direct Routing is part of Teams, a Microsoft outage could impact your team’s ability to place calls or collaborate in real-time. Some providers, like Intrado, offer services such as disaster recovery that can help you mitigate these kinds of risks.

Microsoft, Teams, voice, calls, Intrado
Make voice calls in Teams using Operator Connect.


Operator Connect: Direct Routing 2.0

Direct Routing is still a reliable and widely used solution for companies that want to add voice calling to Teams. However, Microsoft unveiled a new evolution of the tool, known as Operator Connect, in 2021 at Microsoft Ignite.

Operator Connect is similar to Direct Routing, but it’s an enhanced version that simplifies PSTN calling in Teams. As an “operator-managed” service, Operator Connect allows enterprises to “bring their own carrier” or “operator” to power Teams calling. Intrado is among a few trusted operators that Microsoft has tapped to roll out this service.

Operator Connect Advantages

As the big sister version of Direct Routing, Operator Connect makes it even easier to enable Teams calling. You get more flexibility and choice to manage your voice services through Microsoft. The new calling solution is an ideal option for Teams users who want to choose their own provider, customize their voice services, save on hardware costs, and lessen the burden of technical support. (Check out our post “Operator Connect 101” for a deep dive on the solution.)

With Operator Connect, you get all the same benefits of Direct Routing, plus six additional benefits.

1. Keep Your Existing Carrier Relationships 

Operator Connect lets you keep your existing carrier—if they are an approved carrier for Operator Connect—while still accessing the capabilities of Teams. When you’re setting up Operator Connect, you can choose to change carriers or continue working with your business's preferred telephony provider, like Intrado, to power VoIP calling. You’ll have the freedom and flexibility to choose whichever carrier has the right qualities, resources, and support to ensure your integration succeeds from the start.

2. Simplify Deployment

Getting your cloud-based voice solution quickly up and running is essential for business continuity. Using Operator Connect makes it simple to connect your carrier to Teams. As an approved carrier, Intrado is prebuilt into the Teams ecosystem—you basically just have to turn it on. It then takes only minutes to begin assigning phone numbers so that the process doesn’t result in downtime. If there are any complications, Intrado handles the behind-the-scenes steps, simplifying migration for businesses.

Deployment is straightforward and doesn’t require your IT team to have specific expertise with voice or DevOps. There are no coding requirements with PowerShell, Microsoft's command-line shell and scripting language, limiting the amount of work your team needs to do to implement Operator Connect. With Direct Routing, this process is done via coding in a separate portal. With Operator Connect, it only takes a few clicks within a single admin interface.

3. Streamline Management With Simple Tools

Operator Connect capitalizes on the simplicity and consistency Direct Routing introduced. A single, streamlined solution gives IT teams better visibility over their whole system. You can control the aspects you want and hand off the items where you need support. Either way, you’ll feel confident handling anything that comes up. You also get admin access to a global network, making unified communications possible for enterprises with offices in many locations.

UC, communications, Operator Connect, Teams
Operator Connect enables Unified Communications for your business.


4. Reduce Spend on Hardware

Similar to Direct Routing, Operator Connect offers cost savings by merging communications services into Teams. Carriers like Intrado manage your PSTN calling services and session border controllers (SBCs), so you can access their pricing.  This shift also eliminates some of the pain points of managing the infrastructure and its associated costs.  

5. Access Support and More Reliable Telecom

Because you’ll be partnering closely with a trusted Operator Connect carrier, you get a deeper level of support. Intrado’s Operator Connect capabilities offer customers the ability to create business continuity plans, ensuring there’s a plan of action in the event of an interruption.

Intrado also offers enhanced reliability through its disaster recovery capabilities to bypass network outages and keep data secure. And through integrations with trusted providers, Operator Connect boosts stronger connections and less latency with direct peering, which is when two networks connect directly.

6. Choose Your Conferencing Partner

If you want to connect your company’s teams further, consider Operator Connect Conferencing, which allows you to choose your preferred conferencing partner in Teams. In the past, Microsoft’s base conferencing solution was the only option for Teams users.

Operator Connect Conferencing makes it easy to add dial-in numbers to Microsoft Audio Conferencing. The list of conferencing partners—which includes Intrado—is even more exclusive than Operator Connect for calling, so you know your chosen partner has been thoroughly vetted by Microsoft.

Operator Connect Considerations

Operator Connect is relatively new, with few known challenges, but do you want to be among the first adopters? Calling in Teams is an institution at this point, and Operator Connect is just an improvement of Direct Routing, which has been a trusted option for years.

What about the limited number of approved operators? While a valid observation, Microsoft's stringent qualifications ensure these few carriers have been highly tested and vetted for their ability to support customers with Operator Connect. Trusted Microsoft partners like Intrado are there every step of the way to ensure that your deployment and long-term usage are a success.

Ultimately, Operator Connect bears the same challenges as Direct Routing but comes with extra benefits and better-qualified partners.

Take the Next Step With Intrado

As new options emerge that make Teams an even more essential resource for businesses, consider how to make the most of the tools available to you. As one of a few official Gold-Certified Microsoft Direct Routing and Operator Connect partners, Intrado can support seamless integrations and provide the right tools and support to ensure your investment meets your needs.

We’ve already integrated Operator Connect into Hoot Connect for Microsoft Teams, our Teams calling solution, and we’re looking forward to helping customers modernize their business voice solutions.

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