Microsoft Teams can have a pretty complicated licensing scheme. A Teams service plan is included in most bundles (Enterprise or Business Premium). This includes using the Teams service along with peer-to-peer calling and meetings using computer audio. You can add a Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing license to users to expand meeting functionality with a dial-in phone number. However, that audio conferencing license comes with limitations, especially in regards to dialing out from a meeting. This post will go through these limitations and how to avoid a potential bad end-user experience.
What is the Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing add-on license?
When someone goes to schedule a meeting without a Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing license assigned to them, the meeting invite will contain a link to join the meeting but no additional information like a dial-in number or a conference ID:
This might be fine for most meetings; people can join via the web or desktop client to the meeting and use their computer audio (preferably with a Teams certified device).
However, we still have many people that want to dial into a meeting or just want to have an audio-only conference bridge. To add dial-in information to a meeting invite, an administrator will need to assign a Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing license to the meeting organizer. When that person goes to create a meeting, the invite will have a toll dial-in number along with a conference ID:
Additional options in the meeting invite include a link to find another dial-in number if the primary one is not a local number, resetting your PIN if you need to authenticate when dialing in, and configuring meeting options like lobby settings.
Joining Meetings with Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing
To join the meeting, a person can dial the toll number, enter the conference ID when prompted, and typically join without issue (this depends on additional configuration such as lobby settings). However, another option is joining the meeting from the Teams client (desktop or web) and having the meeting service call you for the audio. This is referred to as call-me-at or dialing-out from a meeting.
On the pre-join meeting screen, there is an option for Phone Audio. This allows using your phone for the microphone and speakers while watching the content in the Teams client. You may want to do this in scenarios where you have concerns about the quality of the Internet connection and want to make sure that the audio portion has a good connection, possibly dialing out to a cell phone or desk phone.
When this option is selected, you are joined to the meeting and prompted to enter the phone number for the Teams meeting service to dial to connect your audio:
Note: it appears some phone number normalization does occur; here I entered in my 10-digit phone number and it auto-normalized to the full E.164 number with a plus sign.
The Favorites list includes recent phone numbers used for call-me-at and phone numbers configured as contact information on the Active Directory user account. The two numbers above are configured as my office and mobile phone on my user account.
Once I select Call me, the Teams meeting service will dial-out to my cell phone where I can answer and connect to the audio portion of the meeting.
If you need to dial out after joining a meeting, select the three dots for an additional menu, then select Call me.
Adding Audio Only Participants to Meeting
The Microsoft Teams Audio Conferencing license also enables the ability to add someone to a meeting by dialing their phone number. They will join via their phone but not have access to any content being presented. To dial out to add a participant, select the Participant icon, then enter the phone number to dial.
Limitation on Dial Out Capabilities
Since audio conferencing became available in Teams, it had a “complimentary dial-out capability.” The benefit was for customers that were rolling out audio conferencing to their users. It allowed near-unlimited calling out from meetings: 900 minutes per user per month to dial out to any of the 44 Zone A countries and regions. These minutes were pooled at the tenant level, so if you had 100 users with audio conferencing licenses, those 100 users had 90,000 minutes a month for dial out.
Unfortunately, this benefited ended on November 90, 2019. Instead of 900 minutes per user, this dropped to 60 minutes per user assigned an audio conferencing license (these minutes are still pooled at the tenant level). Those 100 users drop to just 6,000 minutes per month to dial out to any Zone A countries. Also, note that the pooled minutes are for assigned licenses and not purchased licenses. The pooled minutes also only apply to monthly subscription licenses and not the pay-per-minute license.
So how can you monitor the usage of these minutes? In the Teams admin center, navigate to Analytics & reports > Usage reports, and select the PSTN minute and SMS (preview) pools. There is no date range to select as it only displays the current month’s usage, so click Run report.
This report will display the tenant’s pooled minutes for the different calling capabilities. Some examples include:
- MCOPSTN1 – Domestic calling plans
- MCOPSTN2 – Domestic and international calling plans
- MCOMEETADD – Audio conferencing
Select the MCOMEETADD option will display how many minutes are available and how many minutes have been used for the current month. Here are some examples of no minutes being used and partial minutes being used for the month.
Note: Even though I only have one audio conferencing license provisioned and assigned to my tenant, the number of available minutes jumped from 60 to 120. Not sure if this is intentional or a mistake.
Note: A limitation with this report is it only shows the current month. I’m unaware of any way to view historical reporting, so make sure you visit this report towards the end of the month to view usage before it rolls over. An alternative is to do additional analysis using the PSTN usage report, which I discuss later in this article.
From here, I made several calls from meetings, both using the call-me-at capability and dialing out to add a PSTN attendee to the meeting. After consuming the available pooled minutes, my report shows all the minutes being consumed:
So what happens at this point now that all my minutes have been used? When I try to have the Teams meeting service call me, I get the following message:
We could not complete the call. The user is unavailable at the moment.
While the error message isn’t reflecting why the call failed, the failure to dial out is from the pool of minutes being completely used. Likewise, when trying to dial out to add a participant, the call shows Calling… but then silently fails without an error. Here, the error messages could be more descriptive, like they were before the new meeting experience was rolled out.
See how this might cause an issue and poor user experience? At some point during the month, your users will lose this ability and at the worse time of trying to join a meeting. They would need to fall back to using computer audio to join the meeting, often leading to poor audio quality with inadequate devices.
Back in the Usage reports in the Teams admin center, you can change the report type drop-down menu to PSTN and SMS (preview) usage to view which users are making these dial out calls from the Teams service. Select a date range and run the report. Here we can see the multiple calls I made from my assigned audio conferencing bridge +1 405 666 0187 to my cell phone classified as conf_out as the call type. The sum of the durations will add up to about 120 minutes.
When I was dialing out to consume these minutes, it is a hard cutoff. When I hit the 20 minute mark of the top call record, the call disconnected. I also lost the ability to dial out. Also, note that these calls all had a $0 charge as they are consuming the tenant pooled minutes.
So how do we add back this dial out capability once our tenant’s minutes have been consumed?
Communications Credits to the Rescue
Microsoft Teams has an additional license called communications credits that allow for purchasing additional minutes after available minutes have been consumed. These also allow the use of toll-free numbers for audio conferencing, auto attendants, or call queues. Communications credits allow users to continue dialing out from an audio conferencing meeting once the pooled minutes are consumed. The service charges back on a per-minute basis.
To allow this consumption of the credits, we need to provision communications credits licenses to our tenant, which are free and unlimited. We then assign them to users who potentially need to use the credit to continue making calls. We need to add a pre-paid balance for our credits inside the Microsoft 365 admin center under Billing > Your products. You can add funds one time or configure auto-recharge when the balance hits a certain threshold. Enabling auto-recharge ensures there is always credit available.
Note: Any funds not used within a year of purchase are forfeited, so start with small amounts and keep the recharge levels at a minimum to avoid losing them. In the example above, I have until November 4, 2020, to use the remaining $4.40 from my initial $5 purchase of credits.
Once the communications credits license is assigned, users can continue making dial out calls after the pooled minutes have been consumed. They will be charged on a per-minute basis to do so.
Tracking Communication Credit Usage
Back in the PSTN & SMS (preview) usage report, you can identify calls using communications credits by seeing if they have a value in the Charge column and MCOPSTNPP in the Capability column. MCOPSTNPP is a short name for the communications credits license. After assigning myself a communications credits license, I used the call-me-at function in a meeting. Let’s check out my updated report:
Note: I removed some of the default columns to show the portions of the report that were applicable.
Going back to the Microsoft 365 admin center under Billing > Your products, my communications credits balance has already been deducted that $0.16 charge:
Dialing Out with Calling Plans
While working on updating this post, I ran into a situation that I had not seen before. While testing the dial-out capabilities, I used my account with a Calling Plan license and Teams phone number assigned. When I went to dial out, my cell phone caller ID showed my personal number. I was expecting the call to come from the conference phone number assigned to the user. Once I removed the user’s phone number and Calling Plan license, dialing out from the meeting showed the conference phone number.
When viewing the PSTN Usage Report, the reason why became clear: when I had a Calling Plan assigned, it was dialing out to my mobile number as me instead of using the conference service.
The calls circled in green showed the calls were made using the MCOPSTN1 capability, or my Domestic Calling Plan. The +1 405 437 4305 number is the Teams phone number assigned to the user. This means that instead of using the Audio Conferencing minutes to make the outbound call, Teams used my Domestic Calling Plan minutes to dial out instead.
Once I removed the Teams phone number and Domestic Calling Plan from the user account, Teams went back to using the Audio Conferencing minutes from the MCOMEETADD add-on license. These calls are circled in orange coming from the conference dial-in number +1 323 673 4554. Once those minutes were exhausted, Teams used the Communications Credits circled in blue to make the outbound call.
It appears Teams will use Calling Plan minutes to make outbound calls from a conference if they are available to the user. I’m not sure if this is a new capability or something I did not experience before in the previous testing when my user account did not have a Calling Plan license assigned. If you utilize both Audio Conferencing and Calling Plans, then your dial-out minute pools are greatly expanded.
Additional Dial Out Control
If you don’t want your users dialing out from meetings at all, you can control this on a per-user basis. Inside the Teams admin center, navigate to Users and select a user with an audio conferencing license. In the Account tab for their user account, select Edit for the Audio conferencing section. Here there is a drop-down menu for dial-out permissions and the options include:
- Any destination
- In the same country or region as the organizer
- Don’t allow
Setting to Don’t allow will disable the user’s ability to dial out from a meeting, and they will have the same experience as if the tenant ran out of pooled minutes. At this point, users will need to use computer audio for joining meetings.
Teams can be a complicated service with many moving parts and licenses. I hope this article explains how to navigate the Audio Conferencing service as you are planning or deploying this capability in your organization.
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