Microsoft Teams room system ecosystem expands

Polycom and HP have partnered to release a Microsoft Teams room system. Meanwhile, Microsoft has announced it will bundle the licensing for conference room products into a single bill.

Polycom and HP have partnered to release a room system for Microsoft Teams, giving businesses yet another option for outfitting conference rooms to support video conferencing through Microsoft's cloud-based collaboration app.

Microsoft also this week announced that it was bundling the licenses needed to operate room systems into a single monthly bill, an offering that should make it easier and cheaper to set up those devices. Previously, businesses had to buy up to five separate licenses; now, it's $15 per device, per month.

In conference rooms, Microsoft is facing competition from Zoom and Cisco. The former has cultivated partnerships with a wide range of hardware vendors to support Zoom Rooms, while the latter manufactures its video and audio endpoints.

The newest Microsoft Teams room system combines the HP Elite Slice mini-computer with the Polycom Trio conference room phone and the Polycom EagleEye USB camera. The system, which also works with Skype for Business, is targeted at medium-sized conference rooms (for roughly 10 people), but businesses can buy extra microphones for use in larger spaces.

Room kits like the one from Polycom and HP come with components that are designed, or at least tested, to work together, making them more reliable than a homemade mix of off-the-shelf components, said Rob Arnold, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"It also demonstrates that Microsoft's move away from requiring Surface Pro as the room controller is providing more opportunities for partners (in this case for HP laptops?), which will also create more options for customers," Arnold said.

In addition to Polycom and HP, hardware vendors Lenovo, Crestron and Logitech have released room systems for Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business. (Microsoft has stopped adding new features to Skype for Business and is encouraging customers to switch to Teams.)

However, the certification process for all Office 365 room systems is still under the Skype for Business brand. Over the summer, Microsoft released a software update that let Skype for Business room systems connect to Teams.

The vendor is expected to unveil a certification for Microsoft Teams room systems sometime next year with support for Teams-only features, including integration with the AI voice assistant Microsoft Cortana.

Meanwhile, Polycom, BlueJeans and Pexip have partnered with Microsoft to develop cloud-based interoperability services that let businesses connect third-party, standards-based endpoints to Teams. Pexip also supports an on-premises version of the gateway.

These offerings should appeal to businesses that want to get the most out of the hardware they already own while transitioning to Teams, said Tom Arbuthnot, principal solutions architect at Modality Systems, a Microsoft-focused systems integrator.

However, some organizations may feel pigeonholed by the limited video interoperability options for Teams compared to what's available for Skype.

"The Teams ecosystem is maturing at a rapid clip but still doesn't equal the breadth and depth of the longer-tenured [Skype for Business] ecosystem," Arnold said. "It will get there, though."

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