Skype for Business Service Sets Stage for Online Town Halls

Microsoft offers Office 365 business subscribers new conferencing and calling features based on its enterprise communications platform.


Microsoft has released a trio of technical previews for Office 365 that give enterprise customers an early look at what increased Skype for Business integration means for the productivity suite.

"These new capabilities will enhance the existing Skype for Business experience, and allow us to offer a complete, enterprise-grade communications solution at global scale as part of Office 365," said Zig Serafin, corporate vice president at Microsoft Skype for Business, in a July 1 announcement. One new experience is the ability to conduct virtual meetings online with thousands of attendees.

"Skype Meeting Broadcast, available to eligible Office 365 customers worldwide, enables broadcast of a Skype for Business meeting on the Internet to up to 10,000 people, who can attend in a browser on nearly any device," Serafin said. "Skype Meeting Broadcast makes it easy to host large virtual meetings like internal 'Town Hall' style meetings and public webinars."

Bing Pulse support allows hosts to track sentiment and run real-time polls during a Webcast. Yammer integration allows users of the business-flavored social network to chat during the proceedings.

Skype Meeting Broadcast is available worldwide for Office 365 Enterprise Plan or Skype for Business Plan 2 customers.

Office 365 users who would rather dial into Skype for Business meetings using a landline or cell phone can now do so, courtesy of public switched telephone network (PSTN) support.

"This traditional dial-in capability is in addition to simple, single touch join options on PC, smartphone and browser, and allows people to join an online meeting even in places with no Internet access," stated Serafin. The capability also works the other way around, allowing hosts to add attendees by dialing out to them, he added.

Finally, the Microsoft released a preview of Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling, which extends the advanced private branch exchange (PBX) capabilities typically used by businesses to Office environments.

Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling "provides people the ability to make and receive traditional phone calls in their Skype for Business client, and manage these calls with features like hold, resume, forward and transfer," Serafin said. "This preview is built on the proven enterprise voice technology available in Lync Server and Skype for Business Server." Microsoft plans to roll out the capability worldwide later this year, along with inbound and outbound calling features for existing phone lines.

PSTN Conferencing and Cloud PBX with PSTN Calling are available to U.S. customers subscribed to Office 365 Enterprise or Skype for Business Plan 2. All three services are expected to be generally available by year's end.

Microsoft also plans to enlist ExpressRoute, private secure links to the company's cloud data centers, to provide a smoother, more secure business communications experience. "ExpressRoute enables customers to create private connections between their premises and Microsoft datacenters, and offers more predictable network performance, the ability to better manage network availability, the reliability that comes with dedicated connectivity and additional data privacy," Serafin said.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...