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A look at what's next for Skype for Business

This summer Microsoft will launch the Skype for Business broadcast meetings feature that the company used to broadcast the Ignite conference keynote (and it's used for CEO Satya Nadella's monthly Q&A sessions internally).

Those are standard Skype for Business meetings that run in a reserved area of Office 365, that you can add extra video feeds to – either local or remote presenters, including the AV output from a studio or auditorium if you have one. You can also extend the meeting with engagement tools like Bing Pulse or question and answer sessions.

Instead of the 250 people you can get in a Lync meeting on Office 365 (or the 1,000 you can get if you buy some beefy servers that you only use for a few meetings a year), broadcast meetings let you invite up to 10,000 people, with the media encoding and distribution handled by Azure Media Services and the Azure CDN.

You can restrict that to just the people you invite, to anyone on your Office 365 tenant or make it open access for anyone who has the URL, so you can use it for webinars and customer events. Attendees can watch the meeting in any browser, including on smartphones and iPads. And at the end of the event you get a recording you can put straight onto your Office 365 video portal, along with details about the meeting like how many people attended, all of which you can analyse later.

Broadcast meetings will work if you have Skype for Business on your own servers, but they only run on Office 365 – Microsoft isn't ready to talk about pricing but it's likely you'll need to have something like an Office 365 E3 tenant.

Web portal

The web portal for creating Skype for Business broadcast meetings lets you choose who can join

Enterprise voice features

Also coming on Office 365 are enterprise voice features for PSTN voice calls and voice conferencing, which he calls "the features you need to eliminate PBX systems and PBX phones for your users, and the ability to call phone numbers worldwide, to make and receive phone calls."

The services will be available in preview in the US over the summer and fully available there by the end of the year. "We'll do this in the US first and expand outside to other countries after that," Haberkorn told us. He's keen to use the carrier partnerships that Skype already has to improve the number of countries that have local dial in numbers for Skype for Business meetings as well.

By the autumn you'll also be able to get an ExpressRoute connection to Office 365 (connecting your network directly to the Office 365 network through a telecoms provider like BT, the way you already can with Azure). Haberkorn says: "We'll be enhancing that for real-time media, because for real-time communications you want the ability to manage the experience end to end. For our carrier partners, we'll enable Quality of Service markings to go end to end for voice, for video, for sharing, which allows you to ensure a great experience."

Still cautious

Adding voice calls and conferences to Skype for Business on Office 365 fills a gap that's been missing from Microsoft's Office cloud since it first launched, although Haberkorn is cautious about how many on-premise Lync customers will move to the cloud because of it, at least in the short term.

"There are a lot of customers that are really excited about the potential over time of not using a server any more, letting us manage all of it. We think with the work we've done in Skype for Business server that we're making it really much easier to adopt the new version, with the same hardware profiles.

"We think most existing customers will choose to upgrade because they can do so very quickly and then plan their migration to the cloud over time after that, because we still have a little bit of work we have to do there before Office 365 has the complete scenarios of the server. But it's an exciting time because customers can really start to consider that."