Another Tour of the Confusing World of Microsoft 365 Licensing
In April 2021, Microsoft announced their plans to add a Teams Pro service plan to existing Office 365 licenses. After confusing everyone, Microsoft quickly decided to rename the Teams Pro service plan to become Teams for Office 365 E3 (or whatever product you had, like Teams for Microsoft 365 Business Premium). The explanation was that the new name would align Teams with the various Office 365 and Microsoft 365 commercial licenses.
At the same time, Microsoft stayed silent about their plans for Teams Advanced Communications, an add-on they had launched at a hefty $12/month price tag in July 2020. A certain pandemic and customer pushback resulted in Microsoft rethinking its strategy for Teams Advanced Communications and many of the original features lined up for the add-on, like large meetings and support for Teams-based webinars, are now available in all Teams plans.
Everyone loves a trier and Microsoft has a track record of not getting things right the first time out, so we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that they’re preparing to relaunch the Teams Advanced Communications add-on. Revised documentation appeared online on August 19 to tell us what we can expect in terms of functionality. Microsoft hasn’t yet released pricing details.
Features in Teams Advanced Communications
The Advanced Communications features listed by Microsoft are:
- The ability to customize the meeting pre-join screens by including a company logo in the pre-join and lobby screens. I’ve seen this used by Microsoft where the Microsoft logo appears in the pre-join screen where you select options like the device you want to use. It is Microsoft 365 roadmap item 79957.
- Customized backgrounds for Together mode. You can create custom backgrounds into which presenters and attendees are placed when the organizer selects Together Mode. I’m sure some people will get very creative in the Teams Scene Studio to build interesting backgrounds. Or maybe they will restrict themselves to worthy scenes like the lobby or board room of a company HQ. This capability is described in MC258034 (July 30) and Microsoft 365 roadmap item 81123. I’m unsure whether the creators of the custom scenes or anyone who uses a custom together mode background needs a Teams Advanced Communications license. Given normal practice, it’s probably the latter.
- Better monitoring and data analysis for user communications. Real-time telemetry is available to end users in meetings (MC265449, June 28) and Microsoft 365 roadmap item 70777 to help people understand network conditions which might affect successful participation in meetings. Again, no details are available what this capability might be, but it’s likely to extend the data collection and analysis across groups of users or an entire tenant.
- Deploy custom Teams policy packages. You can edit and deploy the out-of-the-box Teams policy packages without an Advanced Communications license, but once you decide to build your own policy packages, those licenses are needed for each user which comes within the scope of a policy. I think this is a silly requirement and said so in my review of Teams policy packages.
To be fair, we need to wait for pricing information to decide if the capabilities licensed by Teams Advanced Communications license is worth the cost. To be truthful, I don’t see anything earthshattering in the list of capabilities described so far, but Microsoft might have some other features lined up. For instance, Microsoft has increased limits for attendance and length for live events until December 31, 2021. After that time, their current guidance is that the increased limits will only apply when organizers have Advanced Communication licenses.
We Definitely Won’t Include These Features in Other Teams Plans
Microsoft says that the Teams Advanced Communication add-on can be used with any Microsoft 365 or Office 365 plan. They also explicitly call out that the features covered will not appear in other plans (famous last words?) and can’t be purchased separately. If you want the capabilities, you need to purchase licenses. Unless your tenant is in the government clouds, in which case Advanced Communications isn’t available (yet).
The features are available in preview until December 31, 2021, after which Microsoft might enforce licensing. Given preview availability, it wouldn’t surprise me if Microsoft waited until the end of 2021 before deciding about pricing.