Category Archives: Voice Integration

Cloud voice comes to Office 365 in Australia thanks to Telstra & Microsoft

One of the common frustrations I hear from businesses I work with in Australia is their need to rely on either on-premises or hybrid deployment models for voice calling.

Lots of our customers are now licencing in a cloud model, however that does not necessarily mean that all end users have been able to utilise telephony and conference services in a cloud-based environment. Hence where hybrid models come in. We are seeing “hybrid” apply to different tools/service. For example, Skype for Business on-premises for UC and telephony, but specific users leveraging Microsoft Teams for group collaboration and meetings. This allows a business to start consuming cloud services in a measured way.

Thankfully, this frustration is soon to be a thing of the past for Australian businesses. Telstra and Microsoft have recently announced a partnership to deliver native voice calling services from the Microsoft cloud with the launch of Telstra Calling for Office 365.

With the prevalence of Cloud technology, more businesses than ever in Australia are wanting to realise the benefits and value of adopting a Cloud-first model for their communications & collaboration technology.

Telstra Calling for Office 365, which will become available for Telstra’s Australian business customers from the middle of 2018, lets customers easily and securely access cloud collaboration combined with voice infrastructure services, directly within from Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.

We have been fortunate at Modality Systems to be part of the Early Adopter Program, and have been working with one of our customers to take part in a trial of the new service. Initial feedback is that this service is empowering their users to adopt a truly modern way of working.

At Modality Systems, our emphasis remains firmly on enabling customers to embrace collaborative communications technology to facilitate business transformation, together with an unparalleled expertise in delivering Cloud-first solutions for Unified Communications through the power of Office 365.

A Finance Exec View of Microsoft Teams and Skype

Thought I’d share a recent experience that I feel is indicative of the market acceptance of Microsoft Teams and the direction it’s going, especially if you’re new to Office 365.

Recently I’ve been advising a niche investment management firm on their journey to Microsoft cloud communications – consulting on business value, ROI and roll-out costs with their CTO and exploring meeting room solutions as an initial step towards value. Our plan was anchored in replacing the hosted VoIP system with Office 365 Phone System and Skype for Business Online. In parallel, the internal IT team were enabling Office 365 for the first time for analysts, advisers and managers.

Then an interesting thing happened. As the roll-out of Office 365 has been gaining momentum with the migration of email, a subset of executives have discovered Microsoft Teams and started trying it out. This initial dip of the toe in the water has led to Teams being used for their board meetings, which I’m really impressed by. In addition, previously an all-hands call would be run at the start of the week with files shared over email and a PSTN dial-in conference setup. Since the advent of Teams, that event has moved to a dedicated Teams channel where relevant files and notes are shared with attendees and an audio/video meeting runs when the call is scheduled. Truly a great example of rapid innovation on the platform driven by the business.

This firm still have some life left in their hosted VoIP solution (it’s not up for renewal or causing any business problems), so it’s likely they’ll put their Skype deployment on hold and wait until the voice features in Microsoft Teams mature later this year, then roll Teams out off the back of the success in the business already. A smart move to leverage goodwill, quick wins and confidence in the tech.

Microsoft Teams has been a quantum leap for them culturally and they’ve embraced it completely. It’s really interesting and positive to see the value Teams is bringing for organisations brand new to Office 365 in different industries and how simple it is for people to start using it.

Calls from Lync to Nortel CS1000 over ISDN don’t display caller ID on handset

During a recent Lync 2013 Enterprise Voice roll-out I was configuring interoperability with the legacy Nortel CS1000 PBX. For this, we’d deployed a pair of Sonus SBC 1000 gateways with 2x ISDN PRI ports each. In each gateway, one PRI port was connected to the PSTN and the other PRI port was connected to the CS1000, so these gateways were deployed in an upstream model in front of the PBX.

Calls to all destinations (Lync, the CS1000 and the PSTN) were connecting fine with no media problems, but we did observe that calls from Lync to legacy PBX phones were not displaying the calling number (or caller ID, or CLI, take your pick) on the handset. Tracing this using Sonus LX found that the gateway was configured to pass through the calling and called numbers correctly, so the problem wasn’t immediately apparent: Continue reading

Sonus SBC 1000/2000 3.0 Software Released

Sonus have released the long awaited version 3.0 of software for their SBC 1000/2000 (formerly NET UX 1000/2000) series of Lync gateways/SBAs.

This new version includes a load of new features like branch survivability using 3G/4G (this is the new Remote Branch Appliance specification), lots of WebUI usability changes, call forking/forwarding enhancements and lots of bug fixes. It’s also the first version to be re-branded from the NET look and feel to Sonus colours in the WebUI.

SIP Licensing Changes

Another important change is how SIP licenses are allocated to SBC 1000/2000 devices now. When you buy an SBC with a TDM module, you will no longer require or receive SIP licenses with the TDM card. If you require SIP-SIP licenses, you will need to purchase them separately. If you have any SIP licences provided with TDM cards today, you will be able to retain them. You’ll need to coordinate a new license file from Sonus through your support/distributor. Note that SIP calls between Sonus devices (VX, UX, SBC) do not consume a SIP license.

Upgrade Process

The upgrade process for this version is a bit more involved than previous versions of code, requiring an upgrade to the base image in addition to the firmware upgrade. See the SBC 1000-2000 3.0 Upgrade Notes for further details. If you’re using the SBA component, there is a separate step also that you need to consider.

For further information on this software release and the SIP license changes, check out the SBC 1000/2000 3.0 Release Notes.

NET/Sonus UX 2.2 Firmware Released

NET/Sonus have released version 2.2 of firmware for their UX1000/UX2000 series of gateways/SBAs.

This new version includes a load of new features like VLAN Support, SIP Message Manipulation, DHCP Server Functionality, Dynamic Routing, Ping and Traceroute Support, DIFFServ DSCP Support and Port Mirroring among a load of others. In addition to these features, over 160 bugs have been fixed in this release.

For more information and download links, check out the Release Notes.

UX Firmware and Lync Cumulative Update Compatibility

It’s also worth noting that NET/Sonus maintain a VX and UX Lync 2010 Cumulative Update Qualification Chart that outlines which version of UX firmware is qualified to interoperate with each Lync 2010 Cumulative Update.

If you have UX gateways deployed, it’s probably best that you delay upgrading to this version of UX firmware and Cumulative Update 7 until they are both qualified to work with each other.

Dial any number in Internet Explorer using Call Lync IE Accelerator

New guy on the block at Modality Systems, Tom Morgan has recently whipped up an awesome new app to fill in the gaps in functionality in Lync on the desktop.

Lync comes with an IE add-on by default which is supposed to enable you to dial any number from within Internet Explorer, but we frequently find that it only allows you to dial US formatted numbers, case in point:

 Lync picks up the US number ok, but..

When it comes to UK numbers, no dice.

This kind of behaviour is actually acknowledged by Microsoft and the resolution is that “Phone-number detection in Internet Explorer is not enabled when the phone number is not a United States number and does not start with a “+”.” and that there is “currently no workaround for this issue”.

Until now. Tom has written an accelerator for Internet Explorer that allow you to dial any number within IE easily and quickly.

How does it work?

First we install the IE accelerator from Tom’s blog over here and click on Install Accelerator. After that, we’re ready to go, it’s that simple.

Now when we find a number on a webpage we want to dial, all we need to do is highlight it, right-click it and click Call using Lync.

I’d only just installed the accelerator which is why I add to hover over All Accelerators, but you can move it to the left column by setting it as a default accelerator in the Manage Accelerators options in IE.

After we hit Call via Lync, Lync pops up with a conversation window, ready to dial the number. Notice that Lync has applied our company normalisation rules also? Pretty neat.

Once I click the yellow highlighted part, the call dials and I’m good to go.

It does display a new tab in IE that says “Smile! You’re in a Lync call!” but according to Tom it’s an unavoidable side effect:

“It’s a little finicky because in an accelerator you can only make an HTTP call. So, I’m making an call to a page, passing the selected number, then using JavaScript to invoke to call. That works fine, but the downside is that you’re left with a new page open in the browser. There’s really nothing I can do about that so I’ve stuck a big smiley face on it.”

But hey, it works right? Go and download it now from Tom’s blog and follow him on twitter as well.

Why you should deploy a media gateway in a Lync voice deployment

Everyone’s moving to Lync 2010 for voice. It’s growing super fast and taking loads of market share from the incumbent vendors, and your organisation is keen to see what all the fuss is about. But how do you interoperate with your existing PBX? How about you want to add a SIP trunk to evaluate the cost savings/flexibility whilst still maintaining your ISDN E1/T1 services? An enterprise class media gateway is the meat in the sandwich to get the job done.

I’m not going to harp on about a particular vendor’s product, but I want to wax lyrical a bit here on why a gateway is a valuable and sometimes critical, part of your Lync voice deployment. It can mean the difference between a smooth migration and coexistence period, and a nightmare scenario where you have islands of voice kit that can’t talk to each other.

I’ll focus on an upstream deployment of a gateway in this post, meaning that the PSTN (ISDN and/or SIP trunk) is terminated at the gateway. Lync, the PBX and any other telephony infrastructure then sit behind the gateway, like in this diagram:

Any to Any Routing

Deploying a gateway capable of taking one signalling protocol (e.g. ISDN, SIP, H.323) and translating it into another is invaluable in an interoperability scenario. An example is when you find yourself needing to route calls from Lync (signalling in SIP/TLS and SRTP media in G.711 aLaw) to your 10 year old Ericsson PBX (over an ISDN E1 trunk), a gateway is the only device that can do this transcoding and feed the PBX the signal it needs.
Or maybe your old Cisco Call Manager only accepts SIP over UDP? No problems, the gateway can translate the signalling for you.

Calling/called number translation is a gateway’s bread and butter also. Taking full E.164 numbers from Lync and manipulating them into 4 digit extensions a PBX can use or a format the PSTN can understand is where a gateway makes life easy.

Migrating Users

If you’re not doing a “big bang” migration from your PBX, chances are you want to maintain a period of coexistence so you can slowly migrate your users to Lync. Gateways that can cache AD user information enable you to route calls based on whether a user is enabled for Lync or not. This means that the only thing you as an administrator needs to is enable the user for Lync and the gateway takes care of the rest.

Supporting SIP Phones and Fax Services

Say you have a big bunch of SIP phones (Cisco, Polycom, snom, etc) left over from your old PBX that you still want to use. A gateway with built-in SIP registrar functionality can keep them alive by registering your old SIP phones straight on the gateway and assigning phone numbers to them. They’re not Lync enabled, but at least you provide a dial-tone to them for basic voice functionality.

Faxing is ubiquitous in the enterprise and still plays a role today, so both analogue and server-based fax functionality needs to be maintained in a UC environment. Fax machines talking to an ATA device can talk SIP straight into a media gateway, or a fax server (Facsys, Goldfax, Rightfax, GFI etc) will easily talk straight SIP into the gateway as well and onto the PSTN.

Terminating PSTN Connectivity

SIP trunks from UCOIP qualified vendors are great and can plug straight into your Lync Server, but sometimes you may want to try out another vendor’s SIP trunk that can’t talk to a Mediation Server directly. A gateway can take this SIP trunk and turn it into the flavour of SIP that Lync requires, giving you a lot more choice in services.

Voice resiliency is a key requirement in most deployments, so multiple SIP trunks from different vendors or a backup ISDN line will typically be scoped. A gateway makes it easy to deploy all of these and manage the primary and secondary routing in and out in the event of failover.

A lot of SIP trunk providers deliver their services over a VPN, which a gateway can typically terminate also. Or if the trunk is provided encrypted over the internet, you’ll usually need to NAT it into your internal network. Media gateways are typically NAT capable, which means you can make the gateway aware of your public IP and ensure outgoing SIP packets are marked with it so traffic can route back in successfully.

The core of your Voice Infrastructure

When you have a dependency on other voice components, a gateway really becomes the heart of your environment. Sure they can be costly, but you’re investing in making your migration as smooth as possible and providing a considerable degree of flexibility into your environment.

CUCI-Lync and why you should think twice

Update: I’ve sheathed my sword a bit and toned down parts of this post because I was a bit of a fire breathing dragon. 🙂

Chris Norman has written a fantastic post over on his blog titled Lync Native Features Versus Plugins: Where Does The Real Complexity Reside?. It’s squarely aimed at third-party Lync call control applications like Cisco’s CUCI-Lync (Cisco Unified Communications integration for Lync) and Avaya’s Microsoft add-in built on their ACE (Agile Communication Environment) development platform that take away out-of-the-box voice and video functions from Lync and cripple the product.

Having deployed CUCiMOC first hand and seen it and CUCI-Lync in action, I can say that this type of integration scenario causes infrastructure and client management problems not to mention user experience issues.
I’m going to focus on the Cisco integration in this post, I’m going to pull a few references out of my Cisco Integration Scenarios document I wrote earlier this year here to wax lyrical about this for a bit.

Why would I want to deploy CUCI-Lync?

I’ve done the due diligence and cost/benefit analysis before, and I do appreciate why you’d want to use a PBX vendor provided client side integration scenario. Here’s a few reasons:

  • Utilise your existing investment in Cisco Unified Communications Manager, not to mention the large estate of Cisco handsets you probably own.
  • CUCI-Lync provides remote call control of Cisco handsets without Cisco Unified Presence Server (CUPS) – a typically difficult piece of kit for even a seasoned Cisco Voice professional to deploy.
  • Utilises Instant Messaging and Presence functionality provided by Microsoft Lync Server 2010.
  • Doesn’t require Lync Plus CALs for voice functionality.
  • Gives the end user the option whether to use a soft phone (Cisco IP Communicator – part of CUCI-Lync) or their Cisco desk phone to make and receive calls.

Adding Unnecessary Complexity

Everything in that bulleted list looks like awesome, low hanging fruit doesn’t it? Get all the cheap benefits of Lync and still use Cisco for voice. Thumbs up right, game on?


The reality here is that there are a bunch of sacrifices you need to make to achieve this. Like these:

  • No native remote user access capability – CUCi-Lync requires VPN connectivity to log in and cannot leverage the Lync 2010 Edge Server to allow for remote voice use.
  • Adds an additional application to your desktop image to maintain and contributes to the suite of applications your helpdesk team must support.
  • No central management methodology – settings for CUCI-Lync are configured client side manually via the Windows registry or using Group Policy.
  • Cannot federate media with external organisations. Federation is only available with IM/Presence via the Lync Edge Server.
  • If you want audio/video/web conferencing, you need Cisco Meeting Place for this (another licensing cost).
  • Finally, the user experience is confusing.

Luis Ramos has another good review here of CUCI-Lync from his lab. From what I’ve seen and from what you can tell from the screenshots, the plugin looks and feels buggy, and doesn’t respond as snappily as Lync does.

The User Experience is Paramount

Weighing up everything that the PBX vendors harp on about not having to pay for Lync Enterprise and Plus CALs, utilising your existing PBX investment etc.. at the end of the day the key to the success of your UC deployment is the satisfaction of your users.

You’re deploying Lync to receive the benefits of a robust, clean and functional UC solution. If you introduce an additional user experience layer on top of that that requires users to learn slightly different ways to achieve different things, written by different companies, you will encounter significant resistance.

And what do we know about user experience? If it’s terrible, users will throw your solution back in your face. Which means your project has been a failure. That money you saved not buying Lync Enterprise or Plus CALs doesn’t matter now.

Has anyone actually heard of this being deployed in production at a company? Let me know in the comments.

NET Voice Gateway Documentation for Microsoft Lync

When deploying voice capabilities on Lync, you’re going to need a gateway or two to interact with your legacy PBXs and the PSTN. My personal recommendations are the VX and UX series from NET, as they’re the most flexible and easiest to maintain and configure. Not to mention that NET are continually innovating their products and bringing new features to the marketplace.

Getting into setting up and configuring these devices can be a daunting task however. Web interfaces, device specific GUIs (VXbuilder and VXwatcher) and CLIs make it a different beast to Lync.
Fortunately, all the NET documentation and training you’ll need s available in one central place at the NET Online Support Centre. Specifically, technical documentation for the following products relevant to Lync Server 2010 are available here:

Everything is all laid out with screenshots and easy to follow steps. Whether it’s getting your VX 1200 gateway setup from scratch, configuring trunk groups or dial plans or assigning certificates for media bypass, everything is here to make it easy for you to configure and maintain your NET devices in your UC environment.
Check out the NET Online Support Centre here.

My take on Microsoft’s purchase of Skype

So, today it all went down. There were rumours floating around since Sunday that either Facebook, Google or Microsoft were going to snap up Skype. Commence a flurry of observations and comments as to why one or the other would/should buy Skype.

Fast forward to Tuesday and it’s all a done deal. Microsoft have purchased Skype for some $8 billion in cash. A hefty sum to pay, considering eBay sold Skype to a bunch of investors for only $2 billion only 2 years ago. They have had some awesome growth since then however, and have delivered new functionality to the market like video calling from the desktop to the mobile.

There were blog posts and news articles everywhere saying it was soon to come and each was speculating on why this is strategic for Microsoft, how it will affect consumers and what will happen to Skype when they become part of Redmond. This all cumulated in a press release and live conference this afternoon (London time) that announced a few things:

  • Skype will connect users with Lync, Office 365, Outlook (does this mean a Skype Outlook add-in?) Windows Live and Xbox Kinect.
  • Enhance Lync for our enterprise customers (interoperate with Skype).
  • Continued commitment to non-Microsoft platforms for Skype.
  • An entirely new business division will be created under the current Skype CEO’s (Tony Bates) leadership “Microsoft Skype Division” and Bates will become the President of this division, reporting directly to Steve Ballmer.

Here’s an interesting question, what will happen to David Gurle the current head of Skype’s Business division? He’s a previous Microsoft employee, and he used to head up the LCS team in Microsoft. Will he want to stick around and bring some value or will he jump ship quick smart?

Also, what will the Lync interoperability look like? Will it be via the Edge Server? That’s the obvious integration point really. They need to deliver every communications modality, not just IM and audio/video. What about archiving and compliance? Security? I can only see this interoperability being delivered in a new version of Lync.

With 600 million users registered and 30 million online at any one time, that’s a huge population of users to connect the existing business communications (running Lync) world to.
It means that any seat in any business and any home can connect to each other using IM, audio/video or collaboration. Not to mention people running Xbox Live with Kinect. Now that’s a pretty exciting nirvana to look forward to.