Microsoft just announced a new program, Operator Connect Accelerator. The programme will allow certified partners to quickly onboard operators to Microsoft Teams Operator Connect.
This blog covers what Operator Connect Accelerator (OCA) is, who the launch partners are and how it affects customers and telco providers.
Firstly, to understand Operator Connect Accelerator, you have to understand Operator Connect.
What is Operator Connect?
Operator Connect is an integration/certification between Microsoft and a telecoms provider that allows a telecoms operator to provide PSTN phone numbers and services for Microsoft Teams. Microsoft Teams customers can view the services available from Operator Connect operators directly in the Teams Admin Center (TAC), as well as manage and assign Operator Connect provided numbers directly in TAC. It is a cloud to cloud integration, meaning there is no infrastructure or technical configuration for the end customer to do (much like Microsoft Calling plans and unlike Direct Routing).
The Operator Connect program has some specific technical and contractual requirements for the operator to meet:
- A signed contractual agreement between the operator and Microsoft
- Direct peering to Microsoft through Microsoft Azure Peering Services (MAPS) for Voice
- Ability to offer end-to-end QoS to customers
- SLA to end customer
- Must be a regulated and/or licensed operator capable of providing phone numbers and PSTN services
- Must have two individuals pass the Practical Guidance Assessment for Voice
- Must have two individuals with Microsoft 365 Certified: Teams Administrator Associate
- Must be able to provide Tier 1 customer support
- Must meet the requirements related to interconnection, architecture, and integration
At the time of writing, there are 25 Operator Connect Operators covering 60+ countries for user calling and more for PSTN audio conferencing (only a subset of OC providers provide PSTN conferencing numbers).
Operator Connect does not replace Direct Routing or Calling Plan options. Customers can choose any combination of those services, including multiple Operator Connect operators, as appropriate for their requirements.
What is Operator Connect Accelerator (OCA)?
Operator Connect Accelerator is a program that allows select approved Microsoft partners to provide software and services to telecom operators to accelerate their onboarding to Operator Connect and provide ongoing support/services/infrastructure as appropriate.
There are a large number of operators queued up to get onto Operator Connect. To integrate with Operator Connect an operator can choose either to integrate directly with Microsoft and handle everything themselves (the only model up until recently), or, now, choose to work with an Operator Connect Accelerator partner to help onboard and manage the Operator Connect integration and certification.
Many telcos have the core voice skills but have fewer in house resources to create and maintain the API integrations like those required for Operator Connect. Other telcos may not be using SBCs that are certified for Microsoft Teams and the time it takes to choose and onboard new SBCs into their infrastructure means it makes more sense to work with a provider who can offer certified SBCs as a service. It’s important to understand that Operator Connect is an active and evolving program/service, for example, we had the recent announcement of Operator Connect Mobile. There are ongoing changes to manage in order to stay on the program. Operator Connect Accelerator partners can help with all of this.
The requirements to be an Operator Connect operator have not changed and Microsoft still ultimately decides who can become a provider and ensures that they pass all of the required certification and verification steps to onboard. The Operator Connect Accelerator partner can just help you get through the process much faster, potentially in a matter of weeks rather than many months.
Operator Connect Accelerator partners must provide software solutions for integration with Operator Connect (integration to OC APIs, automation of key scenarios), in addition, they may provide some or all of the following:
- Managed Teams certified SBCaaS in a geo-redundant architecture (with MAPS and/or ExpressRoute)
- Deploy managed certified SBCs specifically for the operator in the environment of their choice
- Integration to operator OSS/BSS, billing or CRM systems
- White labelled customer-facing portal
- Onboarding and verification
- Advanced reporting, monitoring and troubleshooting
- Additional managed services beyond just Operator Connect
- Portals that can manage both Direct Routing and Operator Connect for customers
- Support beyond just the technical, such as support with marketing and go to market strategies
How does Operator Connect Accelerator affect Microsoft Teams Customers?
It doesn’t affect customers today, but this program will mean many more operators being available under Operator Connect, more country coverage and more options for PSTN connectivity in the future.
Who are the Operator Connect Accelerator partners?
There are 5 certified launch partners, Azure for Operators, AudioCodes, NUWAVE, Ribbon and SIPPIO. There will be more Operator Connect Accelerator partners in the future.
- Azure for Operators is a Microsoft service from the Azure team. This is where the Metaswitch acquisition landed. It will be an all Azure-based option offering both SBCs and software. More details here.
- AudioCodes – AudioCodes Live Cloud is a white-label, multi-tenant SaaS solution that empowers service providers to offer their business customers seamless migration to Microsoft Teams voice via either Operator Connect or Direct Routing, using AudioCodes market-leading SBCs. Live Cloud accelerates certification and verification for Operator Connect and provides service providers with a multi-tenant management portal to rapidly onboard customers. Customers also have a complete self-service portal for increased automation. More details here.
- NUWAVE is unique as they are both a telco operator that already offers Operator Connect to end customers and is also an Operator Connect Accelerator partner. NUWAVE has shortened the process to offer your own Operator Connect offer down to 30 days. NUWAVE has developed their own Patent Pending Intelligent Core Routing in NUWAVE’s SYNTHESIS platform specifically designed to enable other carriers/operators to quickly access the Microsoft MAPS requirement. NUWAVE’s iPILOT platform can be coupled with SYNTHESIS, or as a standalone solution to meet the full lifecycle requirements for Microsoft Teams voice. iPILOT is an intuitive, turnkey platform that provides the required APIs in addition to orchestration, automation, and provisioning for Operator Connect. Their solution is fully customizable and white-label ready globally. More details here.
- Ribbon is launching Ribbon Connect for Operator Connect. Ribbon calls out their carrier-class infrastructure and proven track record supporting Tier 1 operators globally, with 24/7 support services. Ribbon is not wed to a specific cloud provider and can offer Infrastructure and Operator Connect verification in the telcos preferred cloud. Their service provides a fully hosted multi-tenant portal that incorporates customer onboarding and management, white labelled self-service portals, and performance/analytics capabilities. More details here
- SIPPIO offers a fully hosted platform with the infrastructure, toolset, automation, asset management and CPQ capabilities. They can also offer just the software layer independent of the infrastructure allowing SIPPIO to provide the software/API integration and the operator to use their voice infrastructure of choice. Everything is available to be white-labelled or branded as operators choose. SIPPIO is also a telco aggregator offering SIP/direct routing in 74 countries in a partner resell model. All their infrastructure is built in Azure. More details on their offer here
How do Telecom Operators get started with Operator Connect Accelerator?
The start of the process is still contacting Microsoft who will do some checks to ensure you are qualified for the Operator Connect program. Once you have this approval from Microsoft you can then work with your chosen Operator Connect Accelerator partner.
Telcos can express their interest to join Operator Connect to Microsoft here.
I’ll be covering more details of some of the OCA partner’s services in coming blogs so be sure to subscribe to stay up to date with the latest Microsoft Teams news.
Reference: Microsoft blog Announcing Operator Connect Accelerator
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This all sounds fantastic but my only concern is what it does to the price operators will then be able to offer. Using an accelerator partner surely won’t be cheap and will impact the bottom line?
[…] such new developments in the ecosystem is Operator Connect Accelerator, designed to strengthen the value and adoption of Operator […]