Office 365

Microsoft Teams Launches in China

Microsoft Teams became available in China on April 1, 2023, six years after the initial launch of the application in ...

Microsoft Teams became available in China on April 1, 2023, six years after the initial launch of the application in March 2017. Factors unique to China’s internet architecture delayed the launch of this platform and the upgrade of Office 365 to Microsoft 365. Microsoft strategic partner 21Vianet operates Microsoft 365 for the Chinese market. Learn more about the launch of Teams, the availability of features, competing platforms for collaboration and the future of Microsoft offerings in China.

teams in china-2-2Why Microsoft Teams Is New to China

Chinese laws restrict online platforms from sending data outside of China. For this reason, Microsoft and other international cloud vendors must partner with local infrastructure providers. A local partner, 21Vianet, operates data centers in China and provides support for Microsoft offerings as well as subscription and billing services.

Office 365, operated by 21Vianet, became available in April 2014, almost three years after the international launch of this software suite. 21Vianet launched the Microsoft Azure platform the previous month. With the release of Azure and Office 365, 21Vianet became the first global cloud services provider in the Chinese market. Nine years later, this provider has made Teams available to users in China, though without some features. Microsoft Teams currently has around 280 million monthly users worldwide.

How 21Vianet Operates M365 in China

21Vianet operates, provides and manages delivery of Microsoft software and services in China. This company claims to be the largest carrier- and cloud-neutral provider of internet and data center services in the country. In addition to being the exclusive Chinese operator of Microsoft services, 21Vianet also houses data centers for Alibaba and other companies. Because 21Vianet stores and processes data within China, this strategic partner enables Microsoft to operate in this market.

A local partner ensures that Microsoft offerings comply with the regulations of the Cyberspace Administration of China. Though some Chinese users were able to access Teams prior to the formal launch, they were likely to experience latency due to the country’s "Great Firewall." While the launch of Microsoft Teams in China could improve service within the country, outside traffic is still subject to cross-border congestion.

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CAC Requirements for Online Services

The Personal Information Protection Law, which came into effect in November 2021, is the first comprehensive Chinese data privacy legislation. Around the time that PIPL enforcement began, the professional social network LinkedIn, which Microsoft owns, ceased its operations in China.

Recent updates to Chinese internet laws that take effect in June 2023 change requirements for data sent abroad. Businesses that handle the information of up to 1 million people or send the information of up to 100,000 individuals abroad must file standard contracts with local CAC offices. Companies that will send more data abroad need to engage designated agents for certification or pass strict security assessments.

21Vianet handles local compliance for data in Microsoft apps and services. Microsoft reports that M365 and Teams meet all local personal information privacy laws.

Features of Microsoft Teams From 21Vianet

As of early April 2023, some features of Teams in the physically separated instance based in China have not been enabled. Microsoft Teams, operated by 21Vianet, includes some meeting, calling, chat, files, calendar, compliance and administration features, as well as support for notifications, desktop screen sharing and internal search. Microsoft claims that this version will gradually approach feature parity.

The 21Vianet version of Teams does not currently support third-party or custom applications. The initial release also does not support Teams/Channels with more than 10,000 members or live events. Voice, on-demand translation and add-on audio conferencing and webinar features are also unavailable at launch.

The Availability of Relevant M365 Features

Microsoft Teams as operated by 21Vianet does not include some M365 features that interface with international versions of Teams. For instance, in the area of Compliance and Administration, this platform does not offer users the ability to set retention policies or use eDiscovery for chats and channels.

While users in China can see the internal M365 Newsfeed, Yammer is not available. The availability of other features in the Office 365 and M365 suites and other Microsoft platforms is subject to local laws and regulations.

Competing Chinese Platforms for Collaboration

The primary local competition for Microsoft Teams in China is VooV Meeting by Tencent. This platform provides cloud meeting solutions with whiteboard and screen-sharing functions to 200 million users in more than 220 countries and regions.

DingTalk by Alibaba is another competing service that had 15 million paying users as of late 2022. This platform has the advantage of supporting live events with up to 45,000 participants, unlike the launch version of Teams operated by 21Vianet.

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The Future of Microsoft Teams In China

Microsoft and 21Vianet have plans to roll out more features of Microsoft Teams in China. Any developments on this platform are subject to PIPL and other Chinese internet laws. The release of a physically separated instance of Teams will likely improve the performance of this software for users in China.

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