CPaaS vs. UCaaS: How to tell the difference

CPaaS and UCaaS may sound similar, but they're not. Here's everything to know about these communications platforms.
Browser window with symbols for a video, text message, and phone with text: CPaaS vs. UCaaS

Trying to tell apart CPaaS – Communications Platform as a Service – from UCaaS – Unified Communications as a Service – from an end-user perspective is a bit like attempting to distinguish between similarly specced sound systems by listening to your favorite songs on both.

It’s not hard to see why telling the difference between CPaaS and UCaaS is difficult from an end user perspective. Both technologies give businesses and their clients access to powerful communication tools. Both are feature-rich and reliable cloud-based technologies. Both are used by millions of businesses around the world.

What is CPaaS?

Like other technologies bearing the ‘aaS’ – ‘as a service’ – suffix, CPaaS is cloud-based. More specifically, CPaaS is a set of tools that allows you to add voice, video, and messaging services of your choice to your existing business software.

You read that right; CPaaS puts you in the driver’s seat, so you can cherry-pick from a wide selection of services and features to create the communications stack of your dreams. For the uninitiated, a communication stack is a collection of hardware and software elements, each of which plays a certain role in the transmission of information from one point to another. All communications in a network moves through a stack.

To the tech-savvy, CPaaS may sound more and more like an application programming interface (API). Well, that’s because it is. Like other APIs, it acts as an intermediary, in this case allowing your existing software to communicate with cloud applications.

All the power that CPaaS brings to the table comes at a cost, though. The functions you want have to be coded from scratch, and may require a significant amount of time and money to complete. For this reason, you need to choose your CPaaS solution with care to avoid surprises down the road.

Benefits and capabilities of CPaaS

A good CPaaS vendor should provide comprehensive product documentation, code samples, code libraries for whatever desktop and mobile operating systems you use, software development kits, and, of course, great customer support. The vendor should also provide real-world examples of its CPaaS solution in use and a demo of the features you’re interested in so that you can get an idea of the capabilities of your prospective purchase before you commit. And because CPaaS features require a fair bit of coding, you also need to select developers with care.

There are a number of features you can add to your communications stack using CPaaS. Outgoing calls and inbound call routing are some obvious examples. Other features include web real-time communication (WebRTC) calling, which allows you to embed video and voice communication features on your websites and within mobile apps; text messaging; social media messaging; and number masking, which protects the identities of parties in a call.

Apart from adding video, voice, and text communication features, you can use CPaaS to mitigate fraud and abuse by adding security features such as two-factor authentication. The technology also allows you to encrypt sensitive information to prevent eavesdropping. You can also take advantage of CPaaS’ conversational artificial intelligence to automate some of your customer interactions using chatbots, for example.

What is UCaaS?

As its name implies, UCaaS combines team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone services, along with a variety of collaboration tools, into a unified package.

UCaaS is an indirect descendant of analog private branch exchanges (PBXs) and a logical progression of the voice-over-internet protocol (VoIP) technology, which converts sound into data packets for transmission along digital networks. It was one of the earliest implementations of the as-a-service concept.

That’s not the only problem this technology solves. Because it’s cloud-based, UCaaS allows you to communicate with users from virtually any location with an internet connection. Additionally, shifting your communications stack to the cloud means you don’t need to invest in extra VoIP hardware; combine that with relatively straightforward user-facing configuration settings, and you can see how UCaaS can get you up and running fairly quickly and at a significantly lower cost.

Benefits and capabilities of UCaaS

You can cut costs by up to 65% when you switch from traditional PBX systems to the cloud, according to VoIP firm Nextiva. Another advantage of shifting your communications stack to the cloud is that it makes scaling easier and improves resilience during disasters. And if you’re not tech-savvy, you’ll probably be happy to hear that vendors do most of the heavy lifting—configuring backends, ensuring the system stays secure, and so on – leaving you free to focus on building your business.

Don’t let the user-facing simplicity of the technology fool you though; UCaaS is powerful. It offers voice features such as call recording and advanced call routing; video features such as multi-participant video conferencing; messaging features such as real-time chat; and collaboration tools for messaging, scheduling, and project management. Some UCaaS vendors even offer additional features such as customer relationship management software.

What are the differences between CPaaS and UCaaS?

CPaaS does exactly what it says on the tin; it provides you with a platform to build a communications stack that suits your particular circumstances. In other words, CPaaS is like a blank canvas of sorts; your coders are like artists, and the apps or features you want to integrate into your communications stack the images that make up the artwork.

In contrast, UCaaS comes as a unified solution—you essentially receive the completed painting and it is enjoyed by everyone in the business. Beyond the usual configuration settings, there is little scope for customization; you basically trade the flexibility of CPaaS for the simplicity of UCaaS. For most firms, this is an acceptable trade-off as UCaaS is packed with all the communication solutions that a typical business requires.

What is it?Combination of hardware and software that allow for instant and easy collaboration across office locations.APIs that allow for customization and integration of voice and messaging features within outside software applications.
What enables it?Enterprise communications including, voice, mobility, audio, web & video conferencing, call control and moreVoice & messaging integration in desktop and mobile applications as well as traditional VoIP SIP service.
When did it emerge?Mid-1990’s2008
Who uses it?Primarily for business/enterpriseApps, software, or businesses
Technology usedOn premise or cloud hosted IP PBX required; Many offer APIs but users typically have IT and/or telecom resources on staffCloud APIs give access to each piece of functionality (pick & choose); Entirely API based giving devs easy access without IT/telecom experience
Experience neededBuild your own backend infrastructure/interfacesNo need to build any backend infrastructure/interfaces

What do these differences mean for your business?

If you’re not tech savvy, do not have the budget or inclination to pay coders, and have typical business communication needs, UCaaS is likely the most suitable choice. UCaaS is also a good choice if you want to switch from a traditional PBX system to an uncomplicated, relatively cost-effective cloud-based communication solution as quickly as possible.

However, if you want a custom communications stack and have the development expertise, capital, and time, CPaaS is probably a better choice as it allows you to integrate the newest technologies into your communications stack.

Most importantly, CPaaS can help you create a communication stack that keeps pace with your company’s growth. If you were wondering why you need to be able to tell the difference between UCaaS and CPaaS, you now know. Hopefully, you now have the knowledge necessary to make a choice that you will be happy with for years. All the best!

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