Browsing the archives for the Unified Communications tag.

Presence is Dead? I Think Not!

Instant Messaging (IM), Skype for Business, Unified Communications

A tweet on Tuesday led me to an interesting NoJitter article:  The Death of Presence – NoJitter

It’s a thought-provoking read. The author asks a potent question – “How valuable is Presence, really?”

The article talks about a new technology from Cisco, called Spark. Cisco has decided not to include Presence in Spark. Deeming it “irrelevant”.

Well, what is Spark then?

According to CiscoSpark.com, it’s a messaging platform with “everything you need to work together everywhere.” File sharing, phone calls, IM, video meetings…hmm, sounds a bit like Skype for Business! (And Slack, and Google Hangouts…)

Except without Presence. Now, my immediate thought was, “Cisco will use this to differentiate themselves. That’s why they did it.”

But I gave it some more thought. I can see the case made against Presence here.

Despite its omnipresence throughout the Microsoft software ecosystem, Presence is often ignored when trying to communicate with someone. The notion of, “I need this information from Steve, right now!” outweighs “Is Steve available? Need to ask him a question.” At least in many people’s minds.

There are situations where Presence does not add to communications either. A single office environment, for instance. Everyone’s right there. A quick email, call or visit solves the problem.

However, I think Presence’s problem is one of familiarity, not laziness. I’ll explain with a story.

The Secret to Loving Presence: Relating It to Workday Stresses

Late last year, I tried a change in my Skype for Business training sessions. Before that, I would explain each Presence status type, and then relate it to the contacts in the contacts list. It worked, but people were more interested in the Call Options discussed afterward.

Instead, I tried jumping from explaining “Available” to explaining the difference between Busy and Do Not Disturb.

(Reminder: people can still contact you when you’re set to Busy. They cannot contact you when set to Do Not Disturb.)

The first time I mentioned this, I noticed an employee’s reaction. We’ll call him Bob. Bob sat in the training with his phone in hand, thumbing through something on it. Emails, texts, I didn’t know. I did know he looked bored sitting there.

But when I mentioned people not contacting you when set to Do Not Disturb, he lifted his head. “What?” he said, interrupting me. I repeated myself, talking directly to him for a moment.

This got his interest. He listened intently for the rest of the training.
Why? Because he realized the power Presence has.

Those messages probably distracted him all day, every day – a constant stream of “I need X! I need Y!” If he could shut those off, even for a little while? It would mean quiet. Wonderful quiet time. Time to accomplish things. Time he could control.

"Status Green. I am Available."

“Status Green. I am Available.”

So, I made a point to include this Busy/Do Not Disturb difference in all my future trainings. And sure enough, people kept responding to it.

They liked how Presence related to their workday stresses. Helped them mitigate some. How using it really did help them to get stuff done.

Presence Also Helps When Co-Workers Aren’t In the Next Cubicle

Other situations make Presence valuable too. Specifically, when your co-worker isn’t right next to you, or you can’t look at them. Branch offices, remote workers, international teams, call centers, etc.

When people are spread out, they can still communicate (thanks to technologies like Spark and Skype4B). But the real-time nonverbal interaction – eye movement, body language – is not there. Same if we can’t look around, like people in a call center. (I have friends in a couple. They tell me things…)

So we must rely on other cues to navigate the workday.

Presence makes for an excellent cue. It’s visual, it’s immediately recognizable, and with the “What’s happening today?” line filled out, it’s actionable at a glance.

Good Thing to Consider, But Presence Isn’t Done Yet

I’m glad for this NoJitter article. And for Cisco’s move, even though I find it a little premature. It pays to reconsider the tools we use, to see if we can get more value out of them. If we can’t, or we don’t see any need, then maybe it’s time to move on.

But I think Presence has plenty of life left in it.

How often would you say you actively use Presence in your organization? Please comment or email. I’m curious just how much Presence is helping you…or not!

 

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December Poll Results, and What to Expect for the 2016 Skype4B Insider

Office 365, Persistent Chat, Skype for Business, Unified Communications, Voice over IP

First off, I have to say Thank You to everyone who responded on the December poll. Not only did we get a healthy variety of answers, we had several emails from readers sharing how this blog helped them out last year.

Glad to help!

As I promised, let’s go through the poll results. See what we can tease out in terms of Skype for Business 2015’s reception.

December Poll Results: More Stability, Better Performance Needed

We had more than 60 responses to the poll. The #1 improvement request was “a stable, less bloated client”.

While we can all agree that stability is critical, I’m actually not surprised. Consider: Microsoft created Skype for Business 2015 from the merging of two disparate systems: Skype-C and Lync 2013. It was necessary to preserve the Skype-C user base’s expected features, as well as Lync’s broader capabilities.

I pretty much consider Skype for Business as “Version 1” of this new platform. It will, over time – hopefully not too much time! – grow more stable and sharper. (The bloat however, well, anyone’s guess.)

The next most-requested improvements were: RGS, Persistent Chat and Enterprise Voice (in that order).

RGS: I’m guessing performance is the major snag for most of you. If so, you’re not alone. We only use a handful of Response Groups (call flow after-hours, Support team, emergency reporting line, etc.). So far as I know, none have dropped calls or damaged audio clarity.Performance is Slow as...

However, I see both of these occur sometimes for clients. One in particular worked out of a high-rise office building, and shared Internet access with other businesses in the building. As a result their available bandwidth fluctuated. Like you’d expect, this caused some issues with dropped calls or poor audio quality–but only when Response Groups directed the calls. Normal calls were rarely affected. We wound up installing a backup Internet pipe to shore up their bandwidth, and the problem went away.

Persistent Chat: One Persistent Chat issue I have is with its performance. With our on-premise Skype for Business server, IMs are real-time. Same with calls. Video performance is good. But Persistent Chat…it draaaags. Sometimes I can’t even open a chat room. So for this one, I’m right there with you guys!

Enterprise Voice: I’m curious as to the issues readers have encountered here. Enterprise Voice does take some configuration up-front, but it’s one of our most stable Skype for Business services. If you voted for Enterprise Voice needing improvement, please comment or email with your setup details. I’d love to hear what kinds of hardware are used, available bandwidth, what kind of configuration you have, etc.

(As always, we will never share any of your Skype for Business details with anyone else for any reason!)

Along with these, we had several user-submitted responses. Things like IM notifications, Mac client features, and so on. Thanks for these! I’ve made note of all of them. Look for responses, and (hopefully!) some good solutions, in future posts.

Speculations on Skype for Business in 2016

Given all this feedback and Microsoft’s 2015 actions, I shall now speculate on what will happen in the Skype4B field in 2016.

We do have 2 new certification exams coming:
70-333: Deploying Enterprise Voice with Skype for Business 2015 (beta)
70-334: Core Solutions of Microsoft Skype for Business 2015 (beta)

From the descriptions, these exams are quite thorough. One devoted to the ins and outs of Enterprise Voice, and the other to Skype for Business setup & configuration.

Office 365 Services from MSOne thing I note here is a relatively scarce mention of Office 365. It’s referenced twice on 70-333, on configuring integration with ExpressRoute or Edge integration.

This leads me to my first speculation: Microsoft will continue pushing a hybrid or cloud-only Skype for Business solution as a preferred option for businesses. The new features, like Cloud PBX, strengthen Microsoft’s hand in the VoIP marketplace. It makes perfect sense to update their certs…but we know which way they’re headed.

Of course, it doesn’t mean they’ll abandon Skype for Business Server and its clients.  The Skype for Business client for Mac is coming. I believe we’ll also see updates to all other clients. Stability improvements for sure; feature add-ons, I hope. (Deleting voicemails on my iPhone, please?)

Sadly, I don’t think we’ll see a Linux client. At least not an official one. We’ve received comments on this very blog about Pidgin plugins for Lync services. I’m hoping to hear back from Mr. Andersson about his work, so I can test it out!

Which brings me to my final topic.

What to Expect from The Skype4B Insider Blog in 2016

For the past several years we’ve published 1 new post a week, usually on Wednesdays. One never wants a blog to go stagnant–then readers get bored and drift away. Now that it’s 2016, maybe it’s time for a change.

I’m debating a move to fewer posts per month (say 2), in favor of longer, even more technical instructions. Good solid posts, in the vein of Jeff Schertz’s and Matt Landis’ blogs.

Or we can stick with the current schedule. This one I’m leaving up to you, our readers.

What do you think? Would you like fewer and more detailed posts per month? Or are we good to continue on this schedule? Please comment or email your thoughts. If you have other suggestions for the Skype4B Insider, by all means, send those too!

And of course, don’t forget to join us again next week. Until I hear from enough of you (one way or the other), we’ll continue on our regular schedule.

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Why Won’t Skype for Business Screen Sharing Work Over 4G?

Skype for Business, Voice over IP

Welcome to 2016 at the Skype4B Insider! I’ll start off the year with responding to reader questions. (Seems reasonable, since you as readers are the most important part of the blog!)

Over the holidays I received not one, but two readers asking a question about 4G. They went (roughly) like this:

#1 – “When I try to make a call over 4G, the audio works. But I can’t share my screen.”
#2 – “When I try to do a video session on my phone in a meeting, it (Skype for Business) won’t let me. I’m on 4G.”

My mind went right to the same thing in both cases – Network Bandwidth.Cell Tower

A Question of Bandwidth

According to Wikipedia, the 4G standard’s peak speed is 100Mbit/s for “high mobility communication” (e.g. from trains and cars), and 1Gbit/s for “low mobility communication” (people standing or walking).

Of course, mobile providers control 4G with a heavy hand. “The Fastest Speeds! Unlimited Data! …Oh wait, you thought we really meant ‘unlimited’? That’s cute.”

According to Skype for Business’ Network Bandwidth Requirements page, the required bandwidth for video sessions varies depending on codec used. But it can require up to 4Mbps, just for the video!

Most of us wouldn’t use that much; audio calls work fine on only 100-200Kbps. But when you’re adding a few people into an Online Meeting, and someone activates screen sharing, your bandwidth requirement could shoot up to a level where 4G cannot cope. Whether from signal strength, or from the provider throttling it.

Our experience with 3G/4G is similar. When using Wi-Fi or Ethernet, full capacity is easily managed (on a Standard Edition with default bandwidth configuration). When using 3G or 4G, sharing capabilities are limited or unavailable, and video is choppy or fails.

If you control the 3G/4G pipe, then of course you can configure both the pipe and Skype for Business to accommodate higher bandwidth. Here’s a bandwidth calculator for Skype for Business, if you need help.

Sometimes 4G Just Doesn’t Behave

All that said, this isn’t the first time a 4G network refused to cooperate with Lync/Skype for Business.  In fact I documented the issue back in January 2014:
Issues With Lync 2013 – Known and Unknown (But Documented)

“Sharing and video call invitations fail on some mobile 4G networks”
Version: Lync 2013 Windows Store App, June 2013 Update
Explanation: On some mobile 4G networks, you may not be able to send or receive video in meetings and video calls or to see shared content in meetings. When you’re in a call or meeting, a notification will be displayed that video or sharing is available, but clicking Accept will result in a failure because the mobile network connection is temporarily lost.
Workaround: No workaround is available at this time.

Additional Reference: Difference between Lync Mobility Using 3G/4G and Wifi – TechNet Support

I checked again for a workaround (it has been a while since MS documented the issue), but found nothing. Overall, Skype for Business’ bandwidth management is much better than Lync Server 2013. But it’s still a powerful system with heavy requirements.

When Using 4G, Some Skype4B Options May Not Cooperate. Sorry!

Since this is an issue with 4G providers, we don’t have a simple solution. One software patch won’t fix bandwidth allocation for multiple mobile providers worldwide. In addition, since 4G is almost always limited by providers, Skype4B’s video/sharing requirements may exceed those limits by default.

It’s frustrating, I know. But using Skype for Business in an office environment, where you have configurable Wi-Fi or Ethernet, often trumps ISPs’ 4G.

Do you regularly use Skype for Business on mobile? How is your bandwidth configured in light of this? Please comment or email. I’d love to hear the different ways people have configured their Skype for Business Servers.

If you’re just joining us, welcome! Please share how you got here and what you’d like to see. Don’t forget to subscribe (signup box is at top right).

Next week I’ll go through the December poll results, and 2016 plans for the blog. Nobody wants to miss that!

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Skype for Business vs. WhatsApp

Skype for Business

Continuing our “Skype for Business VS.” idea, we’re doing a comparison to WhatsApp!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Skype for Business 2015
WhatsApp
Instant Messaging Chats
Voice Calls Voice Calls
Video Calls Video Chats
Conferences/Online Meetings N/A
Presence Status Status Indicator
Persistent Chat Group Chats
Runs On-Site (Server)
or SaaS option (Office 365)
Mobile App,
Web Service Option

 

whatsappicon(Please note: For today’s post, I’m running WhatsApp on my iPhone. If you use a different phone, you should see identical, if not very similar, WhatsApp screens.)

WhatsApp is a messaging app made for iPhones, Android Phones, Blackberries, Windows Phones, and Nokia Phones. It’s owned by Facebook now, but was started separately by some former Yahoo employees.

Like [Google Hangouts last time], Skype for Business and WhatsApp have similar feature sets. The fundamental difference between them is that WhatsApp is entirely mobile-based. Skype for Business focuses on the desktop first, desk phones after, then mobile clients.

The Similarities: Functions, Ease of Use

I find WhatsApp closer to Skype for Business, in terms of function, than Google Hangouts.
Its Chats are very similar to Skype4B’s Instant Messages. You can send images and video within the conversations. You can call others in the system.

 

whatsapp3

 

Everything is accessible from one central contact-based menu. I found instructions throughout the client, written & styled to look like the iPhone’s own commands. The WhatsApp team kept ease of use in mind while designing, that’s for sure.

All that said, there are notable differences between the two communication systems.

The Differences: Privacy, Security, Mobile vs. All

First off – WhatsApp is mobile-based. There is no desktop client. Skype for Business has mobile capabilities, but it’s desktop-based.

While WhatsApp covers devices Skype4B doesn’t (people still use the Blackberry?), Skype4B has more capabilities due to its server setup.

Conversation History. WhatsApp chats are saved to your phone. It’s possible to email chats in order to save them externally: How do I save my chat history? – WhatsApp FAQ

The WhatsApp app does have a backup option. It allows you to backup chats and videos (optional) to iCloud on the iPhone. This is not enabled by default; you must do so in Settings.

So there is a form of Conversation History within WhatsApp. However, it’s not automatic, or as comprehensive as Skype for Business’ Conversation History function.

Privacy. WhatsApp does have a pretty good privacy policy. I like that they use simple “human” language for it too. An example:

“WhatsApp does not collect names, emails, addresses or other contact information from its users’ mobile address book or contact lists other than mobile phone numbers—the WhatsApp mobile application will associate whatever name the WhatsApp user has assigned to the mobile telephone number in his/her mobile address book or contact list…”

whatsapp1

 

Privacy controls are available in WhatsApp Settings. It’s not at the same level as Skype4B though (server edition at least). With Skype4B you have complete control of your data’s storage & logs. With WhatsApp, you do not.

Security. WhatsApp does not use end-to-end encryption. For corporate use where data security is a must, this makes WhatsApp a no-go. In contrast, Skype for Business does employ encryption, precisely to protect your data. (The Skype for Business team confirmed this in a Reddit thread.)

Finally, there is no 911 access on WhatsApp. I don’t think this is a deal-breaker, since you’re using a phone, which by definition has 911 access. Just pointing it out.

Final Words: WhatsApp OK for Personal, Not Great for Business (But Skype4B Is!)

The WhatsApp team deserves credit for their UI. They made a messaging app that’s clean, simple to use, and clearly popular.

I think WhatsApp makes a good casual communication tool, for personal use. However, it’s missing the security & privacy requirements needed to work in a business environment. For that, you’ll need Skype for Business.

Have you ever used WhatsApp in a business context? If so, what was your experience like? Please comment or email. Also, if you have another communications tool you’d like me to compare to Skype for Business, please send that over too!

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Skype for Business vs. Google Hangouts

Skype for Business

Skype for Business isn’t the only voice/video option out there. But how does it stack up compared to others?

A reader emailed me the other day, asking about Google Hangouts. They were curious if there was a business case to make for using Hangouts over Skype for Business.

Good question! I made note of it for later. Today qualifies as ‘later’, so let’s do a little head-to-head.

Note: This post is longer than most; I didn’t want to go into exhaustive detail, but I did want a thorough comparison. It’s worth the read, trust me!

The Basics: Feature Sets

Google Hangouts Opening Screen

Skype for Business 2015 Google Hangouts
Instant Messaging Instant Messaging
Voice Calls Voice Calls
Video Calls Video Calls
Conferences/Online Meetings Conferencing
Presence Status Presence Indicator
Persistent Chat Group Conversations
Runs On-Site (Server)
or SaaS option (Office 365)
Runs as Web service
and Mobile Apps

 

From this match-up, the two look almost identical in terms of feature set. Even their branding is similar:

  • Google Hangouts bills itself as “Messaging, Voice and Video Calls.”
  • Skype for Business bills itself as “Secure Unified Communications.”

I do want to point out one notable difference right away. Google Hangouts reflects more of a consumer-friendly branding approach, while Skype for Business focuses just on business use. This becomes more important as we go along.

The Similarities: Features, Goals, Quality

Features. Obviously, these two systems keep up-to-date on their features. One thing I particularly liked was the fact that Hangouts does sync its chat logs between devices. Lync Server 2013 didn’t have this feature–but Skype for Business does now.

Goals. Hangouts and Skype for Business essentially accomplish the same goal: enabling conversations between everyone, anywhere they are.

Voice Quality. I made a couple calls from the Hangouts Web Service (on a Lenovo Ultrabook) to colleagues. Then I made the same calls to the same people on Skype for Business. My stock audio-receptor devices (commonly called “ears”) detected no difference in voice quality. Both times people sounded as clear as your typical phone call.

Video Quality. Likewise, I tested Video Calls through Hangouts and Skype4B. I can see why people like Hangouts for video calls – you can’t get much simpler than clicking “Video Call” and having the call start up.

Start a Hangouts Video Call

Video quality appears just as good as my usual Skype4B video calls. Curiously, one person’s voice actually sounded better while video was enabled! Perhaps that meant more bandwidth allocated automatically.

The Differences: Price, Privacy, Presence

Price. Hangouts is free, but it has limits. Video calls are limited to 10 people. (I don’t know why you’d want to have more than 10 people talking at once, but hey, if you need to!)

Skype for Business is, of course, not free. You’re paying for the software and the hosting, either on-site or Office 365. In return you get every feature you want, with limits you set. Classic Free vs. Paid tradeoff.

User Interface. Google Hangouts is very visual, lots of emoji, avatars, chat bubbles…it’s “fun”. Again, consumer branding. Skype for Business is less “fun”, but it’s clean and works in a business context.

No big deal here. Your preference will dictate which interface type you like more.

Privacy. With Hangouts, all conversation logs are stored on Google’s servers. This, quite frankly, is a huge concern to me. It means Google has access to every conversation, ever.  And it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption.

We’re VERY privacy-conscious here at PlanetMagpie. We’re even leery of customers using Skype for Business 2015 Online, Microsoft’s Office 365 service. For the same reason.

Of course, with Skype for Business Server 2015, your conversation history is stored on the on-site server. Much better for privacy.

Presence. Skype for Business beats Google Hangouts here, in my opinion. Hangouts’ presence indicators are good for seeing who’s available/not available at a glance. Particularly on Android devices.

Hangouts uses a green circle to identify Available contacts (example on right). Very much like Skype for Business does. Custom status messages are available too.

However, you don’t have options for other status types, such as Away or Busy. This is where Skype for Business’ Presence functionality pulls ahead. It has more options: Available, Busy, Do Not Disturb, Away, In a Call, etc. We’ve also covered creating custom Presence status options in the past.

 

Apps. The Hangouts Extension only works in Chrome. I think that’s a “feature not a bug” from Google, but I prefer using Firefox. I can still use the Web-based Hangouts platform, of course. Minor difference.

In terms of app quality, I’d have to give an edge to Google Hangouts. Their iPhone app is clean and fast. I didn’t try out the Android app, but according to Twitter it’s just as good, if not better.

========

Final Words: Very Close, Use What Works Best For You

Hangouts is a great quick-and-easy choice for video calls and group chats. I’d say it’s a viable choice for small outfits like startups, local nonprofits or communities. Free, lets you communicate the way you want, and doesn’t get in your way.

In larger business environments however, I’d stick with Skype for Business. It’s better suited for the privacy requirements and enterprise voice/video capability needs.

I know some businesses do use Google Hangouts and like it. That’s great–it does work with Google Apps for Business, so you’ve got plenty of tools at your fingertips. It all comes down to which interface you like & where your privacy settings are.

If you have a Google account, you can access Google Hangouts at: https://hangouts.google.com/

Which do you prefer using – Google Hangouts or Skype for Business? Are there situations where you prefer one over the other? Please comment or email me what you think.

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The SBC and Its Role in Skype for Business

Skype for Business, Third-Party Lync Products, Unified Communications

Today let’s talk about the SBC.

I’ve mentioned SBCs here in the past, on the Lync Add-On Hardware post last year.

A new prospect reminded me of the SBC, as their situation will require one for interoperability reasons. They have several different types of VoIP phones scattered between 3 locations.

(Disclaimer: PlanetMagpie is a Sonus Partner. We use their SBCs for Skype for Business deployments, as well as our own Skype4B server. They didn’t ask me to write this though!)

That said, the reminder spurred me to a thought. “Have I gone into detail on what an SBC does yet? No, I don’t think so. Well, that’s this week’s topic then.”

What’s an SBC?

SBC stands for Session Border Controller. It’s a discrete hardware device which sits in the edge network. There, it

looks at each SIP packet going between your Skype for Business Enterprise Voice network and the external ISP. It determines which packets should be allowed through, and which route they should take.

Server Rack

What Does an SBC Do?

SBCs provide multiple security and mediation services within a VoIP environment.

Let’s say you have two phones – one onsite in your network, one offsite. Bob at Offsite picks up the phone & calls Jane at Onsite. This VoIP call is called a “session”. The SBC looks at Bob’s incoming call, determines that it’s legitimate, and lets it through to Jane. Hence, “Session Border Controller”.

Taking on this role helps stop a lot of bad things from happening. Within a Skype for Business deployment, SBCs can:

  • Protect the network from Denial of Service attacks, spoofing, and other outside attacks
  • Enable SIP trunking
  • Support interoperability between different endpoints (e.g., different VoIP phone types, as I mentioned in the opening above)
  • ‘Transcoding’ calls – Changing the codec used in a call, depending on the session type (audio, video), device type (tablets, laptops, phones), and bandwidth available

Why Would I Need an SBC in my Skype for Business Deployment?

Does your network suffer break-in attempts or DoS attacks? The attackers will target your Skype for Business network too. No question. It needs protection. SBCs are good for that.

Do your people ever call out? There’s no guarantee the SIP endpoints (VoIP phones) will talk to one another. Each phone can have a different bit rate. And if they do, they can’t connect to one another properly. Unless you use an SBC to bridge them (a process called ‘transrating’).

These are the two biggest reasons for an SBC. More exist, depending on your network configuration & security.

Okay then, what SBC should I use?

Right now, according to the Telephony Infrastructure for Skype for Business page on Office TechCenter, only two session border controllers are certified for Skype4B use.

Oracle Net-Net 3820
Sonus SBC 2000

(The Lync Server 2013-approved SBCs will work too. Here’s the full list.)

The Sonus SBC 1000 will also work for Skype for Business; we’ve tested it and the 2000 in small business deployments. Both of them do the job nicely. For Lync Server, we have several 1000s running at customer sites.

You CAN run Skype for Business (or Lync Server) without a Session Border Controller. It’s not mandatory. But it is helpful.

Want more? Sonus has kindly published a simple guide on using SBCs.
Ebook – Session Border Controllers for Dummies

I also like the Skype for Business guide: Ebook – Skype for Business for Dummies.

Both provide good overall explanations for Skype for Business and SBCs.

Do you use a Session Border Controller in your Skype for Business Deployment? What was the primary reason? Please comment or email your thoughts.  And join us again next week!

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The Story Behind Adding Skype Contacts into Skype for Business

Skype for Business

“How do I import Skype contacts into Skype for Business?”
“Do I have to use Skype and Skype for Business at the same time?”
“I have hundreds of people added on Skype. How do I get them into Skype for Business?”

This is one of the most popular topics I’ve run across for Skype for Business. It’s also one of the most frustrating.

It sounds like the easiest things in the world, right? You have X contacts in Skype (consumer). You want to add them to Skype for Business. Take them from one, pop them into the other.

Except it’s not easy. It’s pretty much the opposite.

Skype Contacts in Skype for Business: The Basics

One of the most trumpeted new features for Skype for Business (both Online and Server) was the ability to access the Skype Directory.

To do this, you had to make some configuration changes in each version.

SKYPE 4 BUSINESS SERVER – Front End & Edge Server must be configured to access the Skype Directory. We covered this in last month’s How to (Re-)Enable Skype Directory Search in the Skype for Business Client post.

OFFICE 365/SKYPE FOR BUSINESS ONLINE – In the Office 365 Admin Center, you must enable Public IM Connectivity under “External Communications”. Support reference: Let Skype for Business Online users communicate with external Skype for Business or Skype contacts – Office Support

With these changes you can search for, and communicate with Skype (consumer) users. But what if you have dozens, even hundreds of business contacts in Skype already?

Methods of (Attempted) Contact Import

Exporting from Skype has been a simple process for a while. In the Skype client, click Contacts. Move to Advanced, and click “Backup Contacts to File…” Name the backup file, save it to a location of your choosing, and done. You now have a VCard (.vcf) containing your Skype Contacts.

However, getting these contacts into Skype4B? Not so simple.

According to several sources (such as this Skype discussion thread), there is no contact import feature in Skype for Business at this time.

Undaunted, I brainstormed on the issue a while. Eventually I thought of investigating a workaround using Outlook. Maybe if I added Skype Contacts into Outlook as Address Book Contacts, I could bulk-import them into Skype4B.

(There IS a folder in Outlook’s Address Book titled “Skype for Business Contacts”. Sadly, it’s read-only.)

I got as far as importing the VCard into Outlook (here’s an import process how-to, if you’d like to try). I have 4 test contacts from Skype added into my regular Outlook Address Book.

At this point I had something strange happen. I started typing my test contacts’ names into the Skype4B search box – and they appeared! For a second I was elated. Had my workaround actually succeeded?

Unfortunately, when I tried to add them to my Contacts List, I saw this error message:

Skype4B Cannot Add Contact

No luck. Other contact types worked fine…just not the imported Skype contacts.

So What CAN We Do? Add Skype Contacts One at a Time

We can still add Skype contacts one at a time. Tedious, I know, but it does work.

If your Skype for Business Server (or Office 365 account) meets the above requirements, start typing in the Skype4B search box. Directly under it you’ll see these options:

Skype Directory Option

Clicking “SKYPE DIRECTORY” will search the full Skype Directory for your search term. In this case I started typing “Josh”, my friend’s first name, and received a long list of Joshes’ Skype accounts. You can search using names, Skype Names, email addresses, phone numbers and even a contact’s location.

Once you see your contact, all you have to do is right-click and add them to one of your Contact Lists.

Since this is a one-at-a-time process, I suggest doing this on an as-needed basis. I also suggest emailing or IMing your Skype contacts beforehand to explain what you’re up to. (If they already have you added on Skype, a second contact request might confuse them.)

I wrote up a short message you can use for this purpose.

Hi [CONTACT NAME],
I’m adding you on my Skype for Business account. You’ll see a contact request from me in a moment. It may look like a duplicate contact on your end.
Just wanted to let you know ahead of time, so you’re not confused. Thanks for understanding.
–[YOUR NAME]

Skype Contacts in Skype4B: Doable, But an Incomplete Feature

I was hoping for a clever little workaround which enabled all of us to grab Skype Contacts and toss them into Skype for Business. Unfortunately, no such workaround revealed itself.

Like many of you, I’m surprised Microsoft hasn’t included this functionality in Skype for Business. I hereby call for it to take a top spot on the Feature Requests list!

Do you use Skype (consumer) and work with business contacts there? Please comment or email me you thoughts. And join us back here next week, of course!

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Skype4B Features: Rate My Call

Skype for Business

One of the most frequent questions we get about the new Skype for Business is, “What’s this ‘How was the call quality?’ box that keeps popping up?”

That’s the Rate My Call window. It’s a method for Skype for Business to collect & analyze call data. After a call, users are shown a small prompt asking them to rate their call’s quality using stars and some checkboxes. It looks like this.

Rate My Call Window

The user checks a box if there was an audio issue (they heard a weird background noise, for instance), and selects how many stars they rate the call’s quality out of 5. There are also options for video issues too, if you used video on your call.

A pretty standard rating system. Rate My Call then records the data in 2 tables in the Monitoring database.

  1. [QoeMetrics].[dbo].[CallQualityFeedbackToken] – Results of token polling by users
  2. [QoeMetrics].[dbo].[CallQualityFeedbackTokenDef] – Token definitions

Because of the data storage & back-end requirements, Rate My Call is limited to on-premise deployments (sorry Skype for Business Online users!).

How to Configure Rate My Call

Rate My Call is enabled by default in on-premise Skype for Business. It’s set to display the Rate My Call window 10% of the time.

You do have the option of adding “Custom User Feedback” – inserting a field for extra feedback – but this is disabled by default. If you want to enable Customer User Feedback, just use this cmdlet.

Set-CSClientPolicy -Identity [PolicyIdentity] -RateMyCallAllowCustomUserFeedback $true

Additionally, you can change the percentage for displaying the Rate My Call window with the same cmdlet. This example would change the percentage from 10% to 50%.

Set-CSClientPolicy -Identity [PolicyIdentity] -RateMyCallDisplayPercentage 50

(I don’t recommend bugging users that much though. No more than 25% of the time would be my suggestion.)

How to Access Rate My Call Data

You can access the data through SQL queries, and the Call Quality Dashboard.

Example SQL queries are listed at the bottom of this page: Rate my Call in Skype for Business Server – TechNet

Of course, you can write your own queries too. Or you can set up the Call Quality Dashboard for a more visual reference.

Fair warning: Deploying Call Quality Dashboard is a lot of work. You need SQL Server, IIS, SQL Analysis Server, a pre-existing QoE Metrics database, and a fair bit of configuration. Here’s a deployment guide: Deploy Call Quality Dashboard for Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Once Call Quality Dashboard is deployed & configured, you can access it at: http://[SERVERNAME]/CQD

Is it worth it? Enterprises will think so. Like most Monitoring Server Reports, the Call Quality Dashboard gives you detail-rich QoE (Quality of Experience) reports. Do users in Sales report that audio quality’s poor? You’ll see this in one of the created-by-default reports. Does the Front Desk report call echo (…echo…echo…)? It’s in the report. And of course you can create your own QoE reports too.

More help with using CQD Reports: Use Call Quality Dashboard for Skype for Business Server 2015 – TechNet

Using Rate My Call: The Biggest Value

Now, the big question: What’s the big value in Rate My Call? Why did Microsoft include it in Skype for Business?

My opinion – Rate My Call is a way to crowd-source your network maintenance.

Think about this. Audio/video calls use a lot of bandwidth – which means they’re very sensitive to network issues. If their quality drops, it means something’s not working well enough. You can treat this like an “early warning system” for network problems.

If you have a large number of users voting about how good/bad their call quality is, you’re able to collect a large aggregate of data. Big Data for your office’s calls. You examine this data, and find places where there’s a weak link.

That weak link might be a configuration problem. It might be a bad Ethernet cable. It might be a dying router. No matter the cause, you know something’s up. So you fix it now, restore call quality, and avoid the potential for more serious failure later.

If you’re installing Skype for Business Server, let me recommend an “introductory period” for Rate My Call.

  1. Use the PowerShell cmdlet above to alter Rate My Call’s display percentage to 25%.
  2. Notify all users of Rate My Call’s existence, and ask them to rate all their calls (including video!).
  3. Continue tracking at 25% for 2 weeks.
  4. Reset display percentage to 10%.
  5. Examine the QoE reports for this period, using whichever method you prefer. If you see low quality measurements, you know where you have to check.

Do you plan to use Rate My Call? If so, please comment or email with your thoughts & what kind of environment you have. I’d like to hear what quality elements people are tracking.

And join us again next week!

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Skype4B Features: Call Via Work

Skype for Business, Voice over IP

The biggest change in Skype for Business 2015 from Lync Server 2013 is the new user interface. Familiar to Skype users; minor learning curve for Lync users.

However, that’s not the only thing that’s new. We’ve already talked about integration with the Skype Directory…and there’s more.

This post is the first in a new post series on Skype for Business’ new features. We’re starting with a big one – Call Via Work.

Calling from...work?

What Call Via Work Is

Call Via Work replaces Lync’s Remote Call Control (RCC). I didn’t do too much with RCC, but Call Via Work intrigues me.

Essentially, Call Via Work enables integration between Skype for Business and a PBX phone system. Calls begun in Skype for Business ring a PBX phone – yours and the other party’s.

Why would you want to do that? A very good question. We’ll see what we can determine for an answer. But first, let’s talk about how Call Via Work, er, works.

How it Works

Call Via Work is part of Skype for Business’ Enterprise Voice role. It works by “bridging” two calls together into one.

  1. Let’s say Bob wants to call Sharon, one of his customers. He has her added as a contact in Skype for Business. Sharon uses a PBX phone system at her office. Bob also has a PBX phone available.
  2. He clicks her contact & selects the phone icon. The client initiates a call request to the Skype for Business Server.
  3. The server’s Mediation Server role sends a call to Bob’s phone. Caller ID shows a special number, called a “Global Phone Number”, so Bob knows this is not someone else calling. He picks up the phone.
  4. Sharon receives the call on her PBX phone. Skype for Business “bridges” the two calls.
  5. Bob and Sharon start talking normally. Aside from Bob having to pick up the phone *after* initiating the call, everything proceeds like a normal phone call.

Uses of Call Via Work

Obviously, a legacy PBX system is involved when using Call Via Work. In fact, not only does Call Via Work enable calls to PBX phones, but it also gives PBX users:

  • Click-to-call (Audio going through the PBX phone)
  • IM integration, Presence & user search. A TechNet piece cites as example, adding audio to an IM session, with the audio coming through PBX phones.
  • The ability to add IM, application sharing, and file transfer to a Call Via Work call.
  • One-click Meeting join (which I’d say is the most valuable capability, after voice calls)

It isn’t quite the full Lync/Skype4B experience. But it’s more than an old PBX has by default.

So what’s the best use of Call Via Work? I can think of two.

  1. Easier communication with customers/partners who still use a PBX.
  2. Transition Aid from an on-site PBX to Skype for Business. More on this later.

However, there’s a lot users need to know before you implement Call Via Work. Much of which involves its limitations.

What Users Need to Know

Call Via Work is a stealth function. It’s meant to do a job quietly, without messages or warnings. But users will need to know some things about it–otherwise it might cause confusion and disrupt calls.

What Call Via Work does. While the process is intended as transparent, users should still know what’s going on with their PBX calls. I wrote this post to help with exactly that. (Don’t forget to share it around!)

The Global Number. When you initiate a call using Call Via Work, Skype for Business shows the person called a certain number, which the administrator sets.

(The process for setting a Global Number is documented under “Deploy Call Via Work” here.)

This means a user’s direct number WILL NOT DISPLAY. Users must know the number, and that it will display in place of their own, so nobody’s left confused after a Call Via Work call.

Finally, Limitations. Yes, Call Via Work has limitations. Many of them in fact:

  • If a Call Via Work user has set up Call Forwarding to the Global Number, and someone tries to invite them to a Meeting by phone number, the invitation won’t reach them. The forwarding blocks it. Solution: Tell users to invite Meeting participants by name.
  • E-911 and malicious call tracing are NOT available during Call Via Work calls.
  • Call Via Work users can’t use Delegation, Team Call, or Response Groups. (Serious drawback in my book.)
  • Call Via Work users can’t record a Meeting, mute a call, hold or transfer the call, or use Call Park. (Ouch.)
  • Users can’t access PBX voicemail through Call Via Work.
  • Call Via Work users can’t escalate a voice call to a Meeting with video/whiteboards/PowerPoint.
  • You can’t add more people to a call when using Call Via Work. It’s just you two.
  • No support for deskphone pairing or VDI plugin pairing.
  • If you make or answer a call using your PBX phone (not the Skype for Business window), you won’t have a log of the call.
  • And finally – if your PBX system does not support “REFER with Replaces”, you’ll see this happen. While on a Call Via Work call, if you transfer the call from the PBX Phone, the call window will remain on your Skype for Business window. If you close the call window, the call between the transfer target and the transferee ends.

Lot of limitations users need to be aware of.

Deployment Prerequisites

Enabling Call Via Work
In order to deploy Call Via Work, you must:

  • Deploy a Mediation Server and an IP-PBX gateway.
  • Ensure any user enabled for Call Via Work has Direct Inward Dialing (DID) on their phone.
  • Enable Call Via Work users for Enterprise Voice.
  • Configure their Skype for Business DID number to match their PBX phone’s DID number.
  • Select “Automatic Configuration” in the users’ Skype for Business client’s Advanced Connections options. This is under the Personal menu in Options, by clicking the “Advanced” button.
  • Enable Call Forwarding and Simultaneous Ring for every Call Via Work user.
  • Enable Dial-In Conferencing and Conferencing Dial-Out for every Call Via Work user.
  • Disable Delegation, Team Call and Response Groups for every Call Via Work user.

Final Thoughts

So why WOULD you want to use Call Via Work?

I think Call Via Work is very useful in a transition environment: Going from PBX to Skype for Business Enterprise Voice.
–It allows you to continue using existing hardware.
–It slows the training schedule.
–You have time to notify any customers or partners who might be affected. Without ruining your ability to call them!

However, for the long-term, I suggest enabling Call via Work only for those people who need it. Such people include sales staff calling businesses you know use PBX phone systems, legacy hardware/software testers, etc.

Because of its limitations on the user’s Skype4B call capabilities, Call via Work can hinder some communications. It’s useful, definitely. But it comes at a price.

If you’d like to read more about Call Via Work, the Mastering Lync Blog has a good rundown too: Call Via Work – Mastering Lync.

Do you use Call Via Work in the office? Planning to? What’s your experience with it? Please comment or email. And join us again next week!

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How to Sell Skype for Business (to People Who Hate Skype)

Skype for Business

At a recent Meetup, someone commented on the irony of Microsoft pitching “Skype for Business” to IT admins…who’ve hated Skype for years.

It’s true, too. Skype has a sordid history in the office. Many businesses outright block Skype, for some pretty good reasons:

  1. It’s a bandwidth hog
  2. It’s a potential security hole for hackers/malware to get in
  3. Messages not trackable by other applications (e.g. for compliance purposes)
  4. It allows for unregulated file transfers
  5. Employees can waste work time chatting with friends

(We’ve encountered problems stemming directly from #1 and #2. Let’s all thank our good friends at Malwarebytes for providing such a thorough malware removal app.)skypeforbusiness-nooo

These troubles have resulted in many different methods of blocking Skype from the office network.

  • Blacklisting via third-party apps or AD policies
  • Software auditing
  • Removing installation privileges from local machines
  • Port blocking
  • And I’m sure there are more out there!

Thanks to the name similarity, we now have a question to ask.

Will IT pros give Skype for Business a fair chance?

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

It’s common for people to see two similarly-named things and assume they’re similar in makeup. Sometimes it’s even true. But while Skype and Skype for Business have similar names, they are indeed two different products. At least for now.

Skype for Business has a larger feature set. It takes network security into account, and integrates with Active Directory. You can even run Skype and Skype for Business alongside one another (at least for now).

Nonetheless, some IT pros will see the new Skype for Business logo and flail their arms. “AAH! Skype! Kill it!”

Honestly, I don’t blame a lot of IT managers, sysadmins and support staff for not liking Skype. It does have plenty of issues. But we mustn’t let a consumer-grade app’s history obscure the benefits of a similarly-named, much-more-capable system like Skype for Business.

Let’s talk about how to overcome the mental hurdles. How we can sell Skype for Business to the skeptics.

Sales Points for Pitching Skype for Business (even Anti-Skype IT Pros Can Appreciate)

I’ve created some marketing points from an IT perspective. These are written to appeal to good reason, proper network administration, and balancing between user experience & smooth-running servers.

Some of them have come from our discussions with new Skype4B customers. Others I’ve worked up fresh for the blog. You are free to use them whenever they help out (though we do appreciate links in return!).

When trying to sell Skype for Business 2015…

  1. Use a Lync Comparison. Since Skype for Business is built primarily from Lync Server 2013’s foundation, it’s not the same thing as Skype. Its feature set alone makes for a very different (and much more controlled) system. Plus, Lync’s major sales points still hold true.
    • Full communications suite, operating within the office network
    • PSTN call capability without a big expensive PBX
    • No need for third-party video conferencing or chat software
    • Conversations protected and searchable later
    • Choose which communication medium (phone/IM/conference/chat/video) works best at the time
  2. Much Better Bandwidth Management. According to the Skype FAQ, Skype needs anywhere from 100kbps to 1.5Mbps per user for calls! (The higher end includes video.) While this isn’t terrible with today’s network connections, your ability to control its bandwidth is limited.
    Conversely, Skype for Business Server 2015 has lower bandwidth requirements, AND it incorporates bandwidth control measures directly within it!

  3. Presence Indicators. If someone’s chatting with a friend on Skype, you don’t see any indicators of their status. If they’re using Skype for Business, you DO see their Presence status (“In a call”). Good way to keep people on task.
  4. Contact Governance. Yes, Skype for Business allows access to the Skype Directory for adding contacts. (I have some posts forthcoming on this topic.) However, administrators can monitor this, and use policies to govern who can add whom.
    Gee, Mary has 160 contacts on her Skype for Business client. But her team has only 10 members. Time to adjust her contacts list…
  5. Try it Out in Office 365. Still wary of Skype for Business? Try it out for yourself! Use an existing Office 365 account, or sign up for a dedicated Skype for Business Online account. It’s $5.50 a month to try out the full feature set. Pretty cheap way to see what’s new & exciting.

Have you tried to sell a Skype-skeptic on Skype for Business 2015? Please comment or email what you said, and what (if anything) worked.

Or, if you’re on Spiceworks, post to my topic! Link below. I’d love to hear how the discussion’s going.
Have you tried to sell Skype for Business to someone who hates Skype? – Spiceworks.com

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    The Lync Insider/Skype4B Insider is a blog about the technology we use to communicate in business today. Here we talk about Microsoft's Skype for Business Server 2015, Lync Server 2013, Unified Communications, Voice over IP and related technologies like Exchange Server. Written by Chris W., MCSE in Communication and PlanetMagpie IT Consulting's Tech Writer.
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