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UCaaS vs CPaaS: What’s the difference?


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As businesses trade their legacy on-premises technology for cloud-based communications solutions, understanding the benefits of different services is critical to meeting their organizations’ unique needs. 

Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) and communications platform as a service (CPaaS) are popular cloud communications solutions, but they offer different benefits to different organizations. Whereas UCaaS gives organizations a comprehensive cloud communications suite, CPaaS enables them to build new functionality into their existing technology.

UCaaS and CPaaS both help organizations deliver communication tools via the cloud. While the cloud service delivery model is the same for both technologies, UCaaS and CPaaS differ in the way they provide these communication services and how organizations implement the functionalities they need.


What is UCaaS?

UCaaS combines team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone into a single application, allowing users to switch between different modes of communication with a single click. 

UCaaS is one of the most popular collaboration services. It combines essential communications tools and delivers them through the cloud, allowing teams to reach their colleagues and customers from anywhere in the world. It also removes the need for organizations to house their own infrastructure, as everything is accessed through the internet. 


What is CPaaS?

CPaaS is a cloud-based platform that IT teams can customize with their own features, usually in the form of SDK and API integrations. This gives organizations greater flexibility when compared to UCaaS, as organizations can personalize their communications stack to meet their unique business or security needs and integrate more advanced features at will. 

CPaaS is similar to UCaaS in the sense that it’s delivered over the cloud and can include team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone. However, adding those features is up to the organization. 


UCaaS and CPaaS in the modern workplace

Both UCaaS and CPaaS unlock more streamlined communication tools for organizations. The “as a service” cloud delivery model means that organizations can access all of their communication tools via the cloud so they don’t have to manage a data hardware room or backend infrastructure. 

The modern workplace is constantly evolving. Employees use their computers, smartphones, and tablets to communicate and collaborate from anywhere and at any time. They rely on different forms of communication too, including messaging, video, voice, and emails. The problem is, with so many different modes of communication, the message often becomes fragmented. That’s where UCaaS and CPaaS come into play.

Unified communication solutions combine the essential communication functions into a single platform, so users can get the full message no matter where they are accessing it or by which mode. With a single click, users can switch from team messaging to a video conference without losing their train of thought while opening and logging into a new application.

Workers can also move seamlessly from their computers to their phones without missing a beat. UCaaS and CPaaS enable streamlined communication that keeps up with today’s fast-paced workflows.


Benefits of UCaaS and CPaaS

UCaaS and CPaaS offer similar benefits to organizations when it comes to flexibility, scalability, and cost control.

Flexibility: UCaaS and CPaaS offer a host of capabilities that organizations would find challenging to access otherwise. While CPaaS is more flexible in the features that it can include, both solutions offer integrations with UC apps, chatbots, and more. 

Scalability: UCaaS and CPaaS can scale with organizations as they grow and change. Since users access these platforms through the cloud, they can log on anywhere, with any connected device. This enables real-time communication between employees in different office locations or those working remotely. 

Cost: Cloud communications tools save organizations money as opposed to traditional on-premises technology. Because both UCaaS and CPaaS are supplied by providers, businesses only have to pay a monthly subscription fee for the service. There’s no need to maintain physical infrastructure on-site, front installation costs, or hire specialized IT personnel to manage the technology.


Differences between UCaaS and CPaaS

Several years ago, the UCaaS vs. CPaaS debate had clearly defined feature sets, making the choice between one or the other very obvious for businesses. In recent years, however, those lines have blurred. The proliferation of UCaaS providers has caused many to implement new features that stand out from the competition, and one of those features is app integrations.

Integrations give UCaaS users much more flexibility than the standard message, video, and phone capabilities, allowing teams to add things like CRM tools and contact centers into their workflows. From out-of-the-box integrations (Salesforce, Google, Microsoft, and more) to open APIs for building proprietary applications, UCaaS is slowly moving into the realm of CPaaS.

However, on a fundamental level, UCaaS and CPaaS are still different. The former is deployed fully ready to go, while the latter requires organizations to develop their communications stack from the ground up. CPaaS also integrates better with existing business apps, which many companies might be reluctant to part ways with. After all, those business apps are the lifeblood of many teams, and disruptions can seriously hinder productivity.


Which approach should you choose?

As always, the choice between UCaaS and CPaaS will depend on your business needs. Businesses looking to overhaul their communications solution without the hassle of building their own integrations should choose a UCaaS provider. On the other hand, businesses that want to keep their workflows while integrating proprietary communications features, or those with specific security or scalability needs, should look toward CPaaS.

If your organization wants to start fresh, however, today’s UCaaS solutions offer more customization than ever. Solutions like RingCentral Office provide team messaging, video conferencing, and cloud phone in a single platform, allowing employees to access all of their collaboration needs under one roof. It also allows for complete personalization, with direct integrations into third-party business apps such as Salesforce, Microsoft 365, Google Workspace, and even proprietary apps.

Learn more about RingCentral’s popular integrations in the post, “10 Must-Have Apps to Increase Work Productivity.

Originally published Jul 23, 2020, updated Jan 18, 2023

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