Microsoft Previews Enterprise Videoconferencing Functionality For Skype

Microsoft is expanding the enterprise capabilities of Skype for Business to make the popular video-conferencing platform a more ubiquitous tool in the workplace.

On Wednesday, the software giant initiated a tech preview of new meeting and voice-calling capabilities integrated into Office 365. Enterprise customers can register to preview the new functions, which include a broadcast mode, called Skype Meeting Broadcast, which allows up to 10,000 users to watch a Skype meeting through their browsers.

The other functions allow users in the U.S. to dial in to a Skype meeting through a traditional telephone, or to make or receive phone calls through the Skype client on their computer.

[Related: Skype For Business: 5 Things You Need To Know]

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Zig Serafin, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Skype for Business team, said in a Microsoft blog: "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."

Serafin also said that Microsoft's strategic partners -- AT&T, BT, Colt, Equinix, Level 3 Communications, Orange Business Services, TATA Communications, Telstra, Verizon and Vodafone -- would begin offering direct connections to Office 365 Skype for Business later in the year through Azure ExpressRoute for Office 365, Microsoft's dedicated networking service.

Mary Hester, CEO of LAN Systems, a managed services provider based in Atlanta, told CRN the new Skype functionality gives Office 365 resellers an even stronger sales hook.

Hester said her firm's sales approach often leads with the features of Skype for Business to show how Office 365 can impact the workplace.

"When we show it to end users, they are surprised by the versatility. It easily replaces several more expensive business productivity and collaboration tools," Hester told CRN.

The product has great name recognition, she added, noting the community has grown to 300 million users since its launch more than a decade ago.

"Skype for Business has all the features needed for office, online and mobile to connect and collaborate. The on-demand meeting and recording features are essential for today’s business," Hester said, adding, "the emoticons are a nice, modern touch that baby boomers will like as much as the millennials."