Earlier this month, Microsoft released a much anticipated feature: common area phones for Skype for Business Online. Common area phones are devices that are located in areas like lobbies, lounges, or meeting rooms. These phones differ in that they do not have a specific user assigned to them, and they require different sign-in capabilities. With the new common area phone licenses, this can now be accomplished in Skype for Business Online. This post is going to cover this new functionality and how to set it up in your tenant.

First, the common area phone license should be available as an add-on in your tenant. When I went to add it in my tenant, I had the option to do a month long free trial of the license, and it gave me 25 to use! This is nice if you want to play around with it, or if you are committed to using it, get a free month’s worth of license. The common area phone license is made up of two individual licenses: Phone System and Skype for Business Online (Plan 2). If you need the phone to make non-Skype calls out to the PSTN, you’ll need to add a separate calling plan license (unknown if a separate calling plan will be available in the future, this would make sense for these devices that may have lower minutes requirements). The retail price for a common area phone license is $8 per user per month.

Let’s start through the process of setting up our common area phone user. In the on-premises world, common area phones are utilized through contacts. In Office 365, we will use regular user accounts assigned with the common area phone license from above. Here is an example user account created assigned with a Common Area Phone license and a Domestic Calling Plan.

Next, you need to make sure you have a certified device that supports the new common area phone feature. Right now, Polycom, AudioCodes, and Yealink all have certified phones for Skype for Business Online. You will need to check with the manufacturer to determine what firmware version is available that supports this feature. In this post, I will be working with a Polycom VVX 500 running firmware 5.7.0.

In the case of the Polycom VVX, the phone will need to be put into common area phone (CAP) mode. This is accomplished by navigating to Settings > Advanced and entering the administrator password (456 is default). Next, navigate to Administration Settings > Common Area Phone Settings. Here there will be two options: CAP and CAP Admin Mode. CAP mode provides very basic functionality on the phone while CAP Admin Mode enables additional options. CAP Admin Mode is required to log in the phone into the new CAP web sign-in portal.

For those familiar with Skype for Business certified devices, there are multiple sign-in options for regular users: User ID, PC, or Web Sign-In. The Web Sign-In option provides a URL (http://aka.ms/sphone) where a user will sign in with their username and password to input a code provided by the phone. This will allow the user to sign-into the phone. Once in CAP Admin Mode, pressing the sign-in key will present a new option: Web Sign-In (CAP). This will direct an administrator to http://aka.ms/skypecap. Here an administrator will sign-into the CAP provisioning portal. If you sign-in with the device user account, you should receive a permission error. The CAP web sign-in is only for administrators to provision the phones.

Enter a partial display name or email address of the account created earlier, uncheck the Search for Common Area Phones only, and click Search. This will bring up the user account and the option to input the sign-in code and provision the phone. Also note that provisioning this account will reset the password to a random string.

Unfortunately, at this point, I can’t tell you what happens next. I have tried to provision a CAP multiple times with different user accounts, and I am getting a provisioning failed error like this:

Documentation at this point is little to none. I have not been able to find anything that shows if something special needs to be set on the user account or if something needs to be set on the phone. I have looked around for any PowerShell commands related to common area phones or attributes to set on the Skype for Business user account and have come up empty. Polycom’s documentation is pretty straight forward but does not given any indications on how to set it up in Office 365. I have a support ticket open with Office 365 support team, but for now we do not have an answer. Hopefully this is an isolated incident with something I am doing with my configuration. I will update this post if a solution is found.