Skype for Business Online adds support for Common Area Phones (At Last!)

The long awaited option for licensing common area phones for use with Skype for Business Online/Office 365 Phone System has arrived.

Since the announcement of the Office 365 Phone System (Then called Cloud PBX) at Ignite 2015, IT Pros have struggled with how to configure and license common area phones for this offering.  While the on premises version of Lync/Skype for Business server has long supported these common area phones, the cloud version has not.  Until now, adding a phone which was not associated with a specific user required treating the phone's Office 365 account as an additional user, assigning it a combination of Office 365 licenses that made little sense for a stand alone phone in a break room or other other shared area.   This was cost prohibitive in many cases, and prevented some companies from making the move to Microsoft's otherwise attractive cloud based phone system.

In January, Microsoft's Alejandro Araujo Rajzner revealed in a Microsoft Tech Community post that a new SKU was coming to enable licensing of common area phones for use with Skype for Business Online.  That new SKU,  named simply "Common Area Phone" is now available for purchase through the Office 365 portal.  As with all licenses for Office 365 phone system, this $8/month Common Area Phone license will also require a separately licensed calling plan in order to make or receive calls to outside numbers (AKA POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service).  The domestic US calling plan costs $12/mo and includes up to 3000 minutes of calls.  This puts the total cost for a common area phone with POTS connectivity at just $20/month, compared to as high as $47/month under the old licensing requirements. 

The new license will also require a skype for business certified phone which has been updated to support the new Common Area Phone plan.  Tom Arbuthnot wrote a great article last month about recent firmware updates from Audicodes and Polycom which added support for provisioning common area phones.  I highly recommend you check it out, as he also included detailed covereage and step by step screenshots of the provisioning process.

Since this new license for Common Area Phones has only just been made available for purchase, there is limited documentation available.  I was able to piece this much together from various sources, but I expect that we'll start seeing more details directly from Microsoft in the coming days and weeks. 


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