UCaaS Providers: What are the Differences?

I usually like to descibe UCaaS, or Unified Communications as a Service, as the Netflix of telephony. Think about Netflix for a second. Most of us aren’t going to Walmart or Tartget to buy DVDs anymore. We don’t have a DVD player or a VCR to play movies for us. We stream them with Netflix, Hulu, or any number of other services out there.

We don’t have to keep infrastructure (e.g., DVDs, DVD players, etc.) in our home anymore. Instead, we pay Netflix a monthly fee, connect to them over the internet, and use their platform. It’s the same thing with UCaaS. We no longer need a PBX and countless servers on site. We can pay a UCaaS provider a monthly fee to access their telephony platform over the internet. They host it. They maintain it.

If you’re an avid user of streaming services, you probably know that they’re all very similar. You log into them on your smart TV, laptop, or smartphone and access a number of movies and TV shows to watch. Once you use one, you can use them all. However, they might have slight differences in the content they offer, how often they come out with new movies, whether or not they produce their own movies, and more.

UCaaS is still the same.

Most UCaaS providers offer a very similar, intuitive platform. However, they all have slight differences that are important to understand before deciding on a provider for your organization. Here are a few of the most important differences:

International vs. Domestic

While it’s true that you can technically access your UCaaS system from anywhere with an internet connection, there are some things to consider if your company has a large international presence. The most important from a technical standpoint is the location of the UCaaS POPs (i.e., the physical data centers where the UCaaS platform is hosted). Every call to the PSTN must first traverse one of these POPs. If you have sites in the US, Europe, and Asia, but your UCaaS provider only has POPs in the US, anytime someone in Europe or Asia makes a call, the call will hairpin back to the US. This adds latency and the call quality may suffer. So, why deal with that when you don’t have to?

International DIDs (i.e., phone numbers) are equally as important. Some providers have the ability to source local DIDs in certain countries, and others don’t. If your users need local DIDs in an international country, meaning they need the ability to call locally into that country and not just internally, then you’ll need a provider who can offer local DIDs in that region.

Other things to consider when looking at an international deployment are language support and service times. Do you have French users who will need someone that speaks French when they call in about an issue? Do you have users in Hong Kong that will need support outside of US business hours? These are all things to talk to potential UCaaS providers about before signing with them.

Underlying Platform

There are a few different “platform buckets” that I place UCaaS providers into depending on what their underlying platforms are. First, you have Cisco. Everyone knows Cisco. They have a huge market share when it comes to PBXs and since their acquisition of Broadsoft, they now have a huge market share when it comes to UCaaS. There are several UCaaS providers out there that resell and manage Cisco-based UCaaS.

Then, you have Microsoft – another giant in this space. With the massive adoption of Microsoft Teams within the past year, more and more companies are considering layering voice over Teams to have an all-in-one platform for communication. This second platform bucket is all of the Direct Routing providers who are able to layer voice over Teams.

The third major bucket is proprietary platforms. This encompasses all of the providers out there who have built out their own UCaaS platforms from the ground up. They’re not using Cisco or Microsoft – it’s all their own. They can make changes or platform upgrades whenever they want to and this bucket is often preferable to clients who don’t lean toward Cisco or Microsoft.

There are obviously other platform types out there, but these are the main buckets we see today. This is one of the more surface level ways to understand the differences between providers.

Application Integration

If your company has certain applications that are used daily, it might be worthwhile to look at an integration between your UCaaS solution and those applications. This can be anything from a CRM (e.g., Salesforce), to a video conferencing platform (e.g., Zoom), to productivity applications (e.g., Google Workspace).

It’s important to first, take a look at the applications you’re using and determine which would be helpful to have integrations with. Then, based on the way they’re used, figure out how those integrations should look. Most of the time, integrations include click-to-call within CRMs, one click to send a meeting invite via emails for video conferencing, calendar sync, contact sync, and more.

Most UCaaS platforms have a set of pre-built integrations with a number of applications. If a provider doesn’t have an integration with a specific application, it’s likely that one can be built if the application has open and available APIs to do so. Either way, it’s critical to document exactly what you’re looking for in terms of integrations and communicate that with the providers so they can explain what they can and cannot do.

Compliance Standards

For companies like healthcare facilities, government agencies, and anyone that needs to take credit card payments, compliance should be a consideration when looking at UCaaS platforms.

Most UCaaS providers offer support for HIPAA and PCI, but what does this mean? These providers aren’t taking the responsibility out of your hands, they’re simply giving you the tools and resources to remain compliant. For example, a provider might tell you that their video conferencing platform is HIPAA compliant, but until you turn off the recording feature, you might be in violation of HIPAA compliance if you have staff that are recording video calls with patients. It’s important to understand specifically what your organization needs to do to remain compliant, and then make sure the UCaaS platform you choose allows you to do that.

While most providers can support HIPAA and PCI, there are a few compliance standards that tend to narrow down the pool of potential providers. Included in this list are FedRAMP and HITRUST. There are only a handful of providers that are certified under these compliances.

Find out which UCaaS providers are FedRAMP compliant here.

That said, if your organization wants to meet the requirements, but doesn’t necessarily need the UCaaS provider to be officially certified, that might open a few more doors. In this scenario, it’s important to understand and communicate exactly what your organization requires.

Other Communication Features such as CPaaS and CCaaS

Does your company spend a lot of time answering phone calls, emails, or messages from your end customers? It might be time to think about adding a contact center platform to your external communication strategy. CCaaS, or Contact Center as a Service, is a fully hosted platform to handle all of your external communication. It can be as basic as adding auto attendants and calling queues to your UCaaS solution, or as advanced as including artificial intelligence or virtual agents to handle tedius communication requests.

Some UCaaS providers include basic call center functionality with their UCaaS platform. If you’re looking for something a bit more advanced, several UCaaS providers also offer CCaaS as an add-on to UCaaS that you can deploy simultaneously, or down the road when those needs come up.

Another add-on feature to consider is CPaaS, or Communication Platform as a Service. This can allow you to send out mass broadcasts via SMS, email, or voice message, as well as give you the ability to chat one-on-one with your end customers via text or social media. This type of platform can help take your marketing or customer service efforts to the next level!

Any Questions?

Did any questions come up about UCaaS Providers while reading through this? If so, leave a comment below and I’ll personally respond to each one.

If you’re interested in chatting about potential UCaaS providers that can be a great fit for your specific company, fill out this interactive assessment and we’ll be in touch!