Audio Conferencing Solutions with Office 365

Ben SteginkUncategorizedLeave a Comment

So, I signed up for an Office 365 account a few months back.  Lync offers a great solution for hosting online meetings.  However, one downside is there isn’t any options included with Office 365 for integrating a telephone audio conference with your online meeting/built in Lync audio.  They do offer an option though, the capabilities are there to integrated with a third-part phone conferencing vendor.  There are three vendors that provide the integrated service, PGi, InterCall and BT Conferencing.  I’ve spend the last two weeks signing up for, using, talking to (or trying to talk to) all three providers trying to find the one that best fits my needs.  For those of you that don’t want to read this lengthy post any further, I found InterCall’s pay-per-use plan to be the one for me as I don’t have consitant monthly usage and I’m the only one that’s using it (as opposed to a company with multiple users).  For those of you interested, my experiences with each of them (and why I chose InterCall) are outlined in the rest of this post.

First of all, some background on me.  As I said above, I was looking for a solution for just me.  I don’t have a team of individuals I needed to provide a solution for.  I also as mentioned above, I don’t necessarily use it every month.  It’s a sporadic thing where I only need the phone audio conference with Lync when I can’t use something like Skype or Integrated Lync audio due to participants being on the road, not having Lync or Skype (or being able to install it), etc..

PGi:

PGi probably would have been my first choice based purely on their customer service, knowledge of the solution and responsiveness.  The account manager I was assigned at PGi was very helpful and quick to answer all of my questions.  However, their plans just aren’t right for me at the time.  They offer several plans for audio conferencing.  However, one thing to be careful about is, not all of them actually integrate with Lync.  Their plan that would have fit me best was a $0.06/minute/user plan.  I simply pay for the time I use.  If I don’t use it one month, I pay nothing.  However, I found out this plan doesn’t integrate with Lync.  The plans they offer that integrate with Lync are: 300 minutes/month – $19/month; 500 minutes/month – $25/month; 1000 minutes/month – $39/month.  Not bad, but if I don’t know I’m going to use 300/month, I could end up spending a lot of money for nothing.  Roll over minutes or a per-per-use plan that integrates with Lync (Like InterCall) would be nice (hint, hint PGi)

BT Conferencing:

These guys were a big let down.  I have yet to actually hear from them via email, phone, anything.  I signed up for there $/minute/user plan (still have no idea what the actual cost is).  I’ve submitted a few requests to them online with no response.  I looked through their plans after I signed up, but nothing was very straight forward.  Overall, rather confusing and last or responsiveness was a big disappointment as well as not every publishing what the cost for their service is.  They rank last on my list.

InterCall:

They weren’t as knowledgeable on the Office 365 Lync integrated plans  as I had hoped.  I was able to talk to support on the phone, however they weren’t able to answer my questions or find anyone that could at the time (to be fair it was 6:20PM EDT).  The did give me the name/number for the sales rep in my area.  I left him a voicemail and haven’t heard back from him yet (It’s been 2 1/2 business days).  So he may have been able to answer my questions, I just haven’t talked to him yet.  However, they had the type of plan I was looking for that integrated with Lync.  Their pricing model is slightly different than PGi, but also offer three plans: Unlimited minutes, 10 participant max – $39/month; Unlimited minutes, 20 participant max – $49/month; Pay-As-You-Go, 125 participant max – $0.10/minute/user.  My opinion is this should hit a larger cross section of users than the current PGi plans do.

My Conclusions

As I said above ultimately I went with the pay-as-you-go plan from InterCall.  Sure an hour long phone call with 7 participants once a month will cost me more than the $39/month plan.  But if I only have one of these calls every other month I’m still saving money.  If I consistently use my audio conference every month (or several times every other month, etc) I’ll have to look at the minutes I use and re-evaluate between PGi and InterCall based on my actual usage.  My initial experience with InterCall so far is that their support staff is a bit under-trained on their Office 365/Lync integration options.  However, maybe the sales staff is better and the one in my area is super busy Smile.  The sign-up process was SIMPLE!  After not talking to Sales, I took the plunge and just signed up online.  The registration process took about 2 minutes and a credit card.  About 10-15 minutes after signing up a received an email with the phone numbers and pin.  I entered them into my Office 365 Lync settings and fired up a meeting.  I was able to launch the meeting from Lync and use my integrated computer audio.  I used my cell phone to dial into the conference (without entering the leader pin).  The call recognized both my cell phone and my computer as participants and I was able to have an audio conversation (yes, with myself) without any issue.  So, even though support wasn’t quite up to speed, the registration and configuration process was quick and simple and I didn’t need any assistance to get it up and going.  I did read about some people having issues if DNS wasn’t properly configured so I did double check and make sure all my DNS records were properly created.  The DNS settings aren’t anything special or different, just the standard DNS records (see the external domain name settings) Microsoft tells you to create when setting up Office 365.  Hopefully the support knowledge and sales responsiveness at InterCall improves as Office 365 becomes more popular.

If anyone has any questions, comments, feedback, issues, etc. I’m more than happy to talk to them.  Just leave a comment, contact me, or message me on twitter @SharePointBen

[Update before publishing] – I wrote this blog post on Tuesday evening and posted to twitter about my choice of InterCall.  This morning – Wednesday – InterCall did send me a message on twitter for a link to this post.  So InterCall is active on twitter, another plus for them.