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Exchange Online Unified Messaging being replaced with Cloud Voicemail starting March 2019, final retirement February 2020

In July 2018 we learnt that Exchange Server 2019 no longer contained the Unified Messaging (Voicemail and Auto-attendant) role. It figured that it was only a matter of time before Microsoft retired the service in Office 365. That time has now been announced.

Microsoft is retiring Unified Messaging (UM) in Exchange Online and replacing it with Cloud Voicemail and Cloud Auto Attendant services. If you have Skype for Business 2015 or Lync Server 2013 hybrid connected to Exchange Online Unified Messaging you will be transitioned by Microsoft to Cloud Voicemail on or before February 2020.

You are impacted if you are using Exchange Online for

  • Voicemail service
  • Auto Attendant service
  • Fax integration

Lync 2010 Server is not supported to connect to Cloud Voicemail. Lync 2010/Exchange UM Online customers must upgrade to Skype for Business Server 2015 or 2019 prior to February 2020 to be supported on Cloud Voicemail.

Microsoft previously announced retiring the option to connect third-party IP PBX’s/Session border controllers to Exchange Online Unified Messaging on December 1, 2019.

Who is unaffected?

  • Exchange Server customers using Unified Messaging are unaffected.
  • Skype for Business Online and Microsoft Teams users are unaffected, they have always used Cloud Voicemail.

How the transition will work

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Reference: Exchange Unified Messaging Online migration support

From the blog “The transition timing will vary depending upon how your company has utilized the UM features. Over the course of this calendar year, we will selectively notify customers via the Office 365 Message Center of their coming transition. The first group of customers will be notified in February 2019 and then can expect to be transitioned in March 2019. The experience for each customer will be transparent – Microsoft will switch your users over to Cloud Voicemail and perform the necessary validation and testing.

Customers who have received a transition notification and would like to request postponement can do so by submitting a request via the support tool in the Office 365 Admin Portal. Please remember that final retirement date is February 2020.”

What’s missing from Cloud Voicemail compared to Exchange Online Unified Messaging

The Microsoft blog does a good job of selling the benefits of Cloud Voicemail, mainly around being in the cloud is great for future innovation. Most typical users will not notice any real difference. However, today, there are a few feature gaps between Exchange Unified Messaging and Cloud Voicemail. To Microsoft’s credit, their documentation spells this out. Here are some notable ones:

  • PSTN Dial-in Access – Cloud Voicemail has no option to dial a regular phone number to listen back to your voicemail. For example from your mobile/cell phone. All listen back is via your email.
  • Play on phone (PSTN)- to play message – the ability to click play and have your PSTN phone ring and play the message back to you. useful for those without headsets/speakers on their PC.
  • Call Answering Rules/Personal Auto Attendant
  • Message Waiting Indicator light on some phones
  • Sending a voice message to a group of users
  • Voicemail notification using SMS
  • Fax integration – I don’t know of anyone who used this, but it’s gone

Missing today but coming:

  • Call answering rules – Q1CY19
  • Web portal administration – CY19

What’s missing from Cloud Auto Attendant compared to Exchange Online Auto Attendant

  • Transfer to PSTN number externally – coming Q2CY19
  • Extension dialling – CY19
  • Mailbox for AA callers to leave a message – CY19

Have I missed a feature you use, if so please let me know. I will keep updating the blog to help others.

Overall I don’t think this will impact a lot of users functionality wise. It is another example of the type of change timelines in the cloud.

About the author

Tom Arbuthnot

A Microsoft MVP and Microsoft Certified Master, Tom Arbuthnot is Principal Solutions Architect at Microsoft Collaboration specialists Modality Systems.

Tom stays up to date with industry developments and shares news and his opinions on his blog, Microsoft Teams Podcast and email list. He is a regular speaker at events around the world.

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  • Features that are lacking. Direct Routing to auto attendants is not supported – you must port your number to Microsoft as a Service Number. There is no such thing as a subscriber access number – this is commonly used with shared voicemail boxes. There are no shared voicemail boxes. No option to “Zero Out” of a voicemail box which is commonly used in Boss/Admin scenarios. No ability to schedule temp/holiday greetings.

Tom Talks Microsoft Teams and Microsoft 365 Collaboration news and opinions