Microsoft Teams can have a pretty complicated licensing scheme. There is the base license included in most bundles (E1, E5, E5, Business Premium, etc.) that includes using the Teams service along with peer-to-peer calling and meetings using computer audio. To expand the functionality of those meetings with a dial-in number, an audio conferencing add-on license is needed for each meeting organizer (this license is included in E5). However, that audio conferencing license adds more features but also 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 audio conferencing add-on license?
When someone goes to schedule a meeting without an 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 headset or other 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 an Audio Conferencing license to the meeting organizer. When that person goes to create a meeting, the invite will include 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 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 call-me-at or dialing-out from a meeting.
On the pre-join meeting screen, there is an option under Other join options for Phone Audio. This allows using your phone for the microphone and speakers while watching the content inside of Teams. You may want to do this in scenarios where you have concerns on 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.
Selecting this phone audio option will bring up a window where you can enter the phone number you want the Teams meeting service to dial so you can connect the audio:
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.
Once I select Call me, the Teams meeting service will dial-out to my cell phone where I can answer and be connected to the audio portion of the meeting.
The 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. This is available when viewing the participants in the meeting.
If a meeting organizer does not have an audio conferencing license assigned, if they or another meeting participant hovers over the phone audio option, a message appears that they do not have access to dial-in information for this meeting.
Limitation on Dial Out Capabilities
Since audio conferencing became available in Teams, it had what Microsoft called a “complimentary dial-out capability”. The benefit was for customers that were rolling out audio conferencing to their users and 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). So now those 100 users drop to just 6,000 minutes per month for the dialing out to any Zone A countries. Also note that the pooled minutes are for assigned licenses and not purchased licenses and also only applies 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 in 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.
So 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 or another person to add their audio to the meeting, I get the following message:
You are not set up to use this calling feature. Please contact your IT administrator.
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, and that can often lead to poor audio quality with insufficient 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 out 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 and I immediately 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. In our case, communications credits are going to allow our users to continue dialing out from an audio conferencing meeting once the pooled minutes are consumed, and 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) and assign them to users who potentially need to use the credit in order to continue making calls. We then 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 to ensure 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 to your users, they will have the ability to 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 as well as MCOPSTNPP in the Capability column. MCOPSTNPP is a short name for the communications credits license. After assigning myself a communications credits license, I was able to use the call-me-at function in a meeting, so 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:
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 just use computer audio for joining meetings.
Disconnect all the Calls
One final “gotcha” that I want to mention with the call-me-at capability. I’ve noticed that if I dial out to my cell phone to join audio, the call is not disconnected when I hang up inside the Teams client. The call to my cell phone is still connected to the meeting and consuming minutes.
I did a test call where I disconnected from the meeting in the Teams client after about a minute but left the call connected on my cell phone for 5 minutes. Rechecking the PSTN usage report, the call out to my cell phone showed the full 5 minutes, and in this case since I was out of minutes for the month, it used communications credits for the call.
This is a good opportunity to make sure that your users know to hang up both in the Teams client as well as whatever phone they dialed into to join the meeting as it will stay connected and consume minutes. Unfortunately I also tried using the new end meeting functionality and this didn’t disconnect the call either. Definitely an issue that hopefully Microsoft can resolve in the future.