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Unified Communications as a Service – Brightlio’s Ultimate Guide
Unified Communications as a Service, or UCaaS, is a cloud communication platform for business. It has changed business communications by combining voice, conferencing, collaboration, and contact center in a platform delivered from the providers’ cloud. UCaaS platforms simplify the user experience, improve productivity, decrease deployment and management costs, and elevate the customer experience.
This guide aims to provide a complete overview of unified communications technology so that you can determine if UCaaS is right for your business. This resource is for a general audience with an interest in UCaaS. If you have additional technical or vendor-specific questions or would like a free, no-obligation quote for a UCaaS solution, Brightlio’s team of UCaaS resellers is here to help.
A Brief History of Telephony
I worked at Nortel selling traditional on-premise TDM and VoIP phone systems in the “good old days” of telephony. I am very aware of the cost and complexity of deploying traditional PBXs. While the on-premise PBXs offered rock-solid reliability (we’d often tout that they provided the same reliability as systems on the space shuttle), there were some drawbacks:
- They were expensive to purchase and maintain
- They lacked flexibility
- They required a roomful of telecom hardware
- They were costly and cumbersome to deploy.
Along came Voice over IP technology (VoIP). VoIP allows us to transmit voice data over the IP network rather than analog signals. As internet connectivity speeds increased and cloud technology proliferated, these combined to allow for Unified Communications as a Service technology.
UCaaS Explained: What is Unified Communications as a Service?
Unified Communications as a Service is a cloud communication platform for business that combines telephony, conferencing, unified messaging, instant messaging, mobility, and collaboration. UCaaS allows teams to communicate more efficiently by combining tools into a single, easy-to-use, cloud-based platform.
Unified communications solutions are powered by cloud infrastructure operated by the UCaaS provider. This eliminates the need for customers to maintain expensive telephony infrastructure like a PBX. UCaaS solutions are usually provided as a monthly recurring service.
Set up and deployment are simple, as the infrastructure resides in the cloud. UCaaS is so simple to deploy that many end users can set up UCaaS systems themselves. Customers that need help can purchase deployment services from their UCaaS provider for a fraction of the cost of a legacy PBX deployment.
UCaaS replaces the traditional on-premise PBX. UCaaS eliminates the need for companies to provide analog phone lines for each handset, making it an ideal POTS line replacement. Also, it provides much greater flexibility for a distributed workforce with employees working from home. Connecting to the UCaaS cloud is as simple as bringing a phone to a home or temporary office and connecting it to the internet. Once online, the phone will extend the enterprises’ business telephony functions, including security profiles, to remote users.
The Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) market is one of the fastest markets in IT. The global UCaaS market is will grow from $28.96 billion in 2021 to $69.93 billion by 2028, an annual growth rate of 13.4%. Increased adoption of cloud technologies, coupled with the increase in remote work, are critical drivers for UCaaS adoption.
UCaaS: A Cloud Communication Platform for Business
UCaaS is a cloud communication platform for business, meaning enterprises don’t need to have their own business telephony system. Rather than purchasing and managing on-premise hardware and software like a traditional PBX, UCaaS offerings reside in the provider’s cloud environment. Most providers have multiple points of presence (PoPs) that service their UCaaS clients, providing redundancy. Physical phones, soft phones, and other collaboration solutions connect to the UCaaS providers’ cloud to get access to the service.
Is UCaaS the same as VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, delivers voice communications over IP networks rather than traditional analog networks. UCaaS is a robust communications platform that uses the VoIP protocol to transmit voice data packets. Therefore, VoIP is a foundational and complementary technology for the delivery of UCaaS.
What are the critical functions of a Unified Communications Solution?
There are a number of critical functions of UCaaS. These include enterprise voice, audio and web conferencing, instant messaging, and collaboration technologies. Let’s review each category in greater detail.
Reliable, scalable phone service is at the core of any reputable UCaaS system. Phones connect to the cloud and allow internal and external users to communicate over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Users get Direct Inward Dial (DID) numbers for direct dialing. The DID distributes calls to call center agents with contact as a service features. UCaaS systems will typically support both physical phones, as well as soft phones. Soft phones are software phones for desktops, laptops, and mobile devices mimicking physical desk phones. The enable users to work remotely. UCaaS solutions typically offer end-to-end encryption, so you can rest assured that your voice communications are secure.
The system forwards calls to mobile phones using call routing features. Call recording allows enterprises to record and store calls securely in the cloud to improve customer service and satisfaction. Other key features include auto-attendant, advanced call management, and visual voicemail.
UCaaS solutions offer myriad audio and video conferencing options integrated with voice service. UCaaS systems make it easy to join conferences from mobile devices and computers. Also, incorporating passcodes further improves security.
Lecture mode, muting, and recording features are typically included. Providers offer video conferencing solutions for both one-on-one and multi-person video calls. Voice and video conference recording is often an added feature.
Most UCaaS solutions offer elegant integrations with products like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Webex for customers that prefer to stay on their existing conferencing platform. This allows users to access UCaaS features from the conferencing interface. Some platforms also boost call quality in third-party conferencing platforms so that your third-party conferencing solution is better when combined with a Unified Communications platform.
Most UCaaS solutions offer an Instant Messaging (IM) option for communication and file sharing. Rather than using consumer IM platforms, the IM solutions offered by UCaaS providers are secure. When using commercial IM platforms from a UCaaS provider, companies store files safely on their managed storage devices instead of personal ones.
Presence, or the ability to see if users on the platform are available, is an important feature. Presence shows which users are online with easy-to-understand icons. They also allow users to share their availability and the best communications channels to contact them. For example, the icon can note if someone is in a meeting or available only via chat. These features make for quicker, more efficient communications over multiple tools.
Instant messaging platforms integrate with customer chat functions for better customer support. Combining these features with a contact center solution layers additional value. The contact center agent stores communications with the customer in a CRM system integrated with the UCaaS and CCaaS solutions.
UCaaS systems include a wealth of collaboration tools designed to work from laptops, desktops, and mobile devices. In addition to conferencing and video messaging, UCaaS solutions offer screen sharing, file sharing, and calendar sharing. UCaaS solutions typically include project and task management features, making them a complete collaboration suite.
What are the Benefits of UCaaS?
There are many benefits to Unified Communications as a Service that are driving customer demand. These include lower upfront costs, simplified implementation, fewer tools to manage, improved scalability, and better security. Let’s explore each facet further.
Low Upfront Hardware Costs
Traditional on-premise PBX systems can cost tens of thousands to millions of dollars. Companies purchase UCaaS solutions at a reasonable per-user monthly fee, often without any upfront hardware costs.
Prices vary based on the user count, features, and vendor. Budgeting $15 to $45 per user will provide a rough estimate for a UCaaS deployment. Companies add any additional desk or conference phones to the monthly service. Customers can often leverage existing handsets from Polycom, AudioCodes, and other providers, further improving cost. This allows customers to take advantage of the benefits of CaaS without a massive upfront bill.
By way of example, we recently provided a small business with UCaaS pricing. A solution for 25 team members costed only $650 per month. A similar deployment with a legacy PBX would likely have been $25,000 to $50,000 plus deployment services.
Most UCaaS services exist in the cloud, making installation and deployment simple. Users typically configure them via a web GUI. The UCaaS provider, or a UCaaS reseller, like Brightlio, can also help with the installation and configuration.
Typically, the costs to deploy a UCaaS system are much less than a traditional PBX since most of the infrastructure is already deployed in the provider’s cloud. The price for a “white glove” implementation service for the 25-user deployment referenced above was only $2,500. A legacy deployment would cost at least $10,000 or more.
Fewer Tools to Manage
Gone are the days of integrating a PBX with a conferencing system, IVR, and Contact Center platform. UCaaS solutions bundle multiple tools into a unified platform. This eliminates the costs of purchasing numerous third-party tools and improves productivity. It also reduces the headaches associated with integrating products from multiple vendors.
When third-party tools are preferred or required, there are usually straightforward integrations between the most popular platforms.
Scaling traditional PBX systems meant buying more expensive PBX hardware and overpriced handsets. UCaaS solutions scale quickly without significant capital outlays. New users are added to the system with just a few clicks in the cloud management console. This makes deploying a new office or enabling employees to work from home a simple task.
UCaaS solutions include encryption and other essential security features. Security configurations are pushed out to devices companywide, ensuring devices meet company standards and compliance requirements.
For organizations bound by compliance standards like PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, CCPA, and others, UCaaS is a great option. The UCaaS provider ensures compliance requirements are met in their cloud environment. The added security features also makes UCaaS platforms a great fit for small businesses that may not have a dedicated cybersecurity team.
UCaaS extend an enterprise’s communications infrastructure, as they can be accessed from the office, home, or on the road. This increases efficiency and customer and employee satisfaction. Employees can easily initiate web conferencing with excellent video quality, enabling remote work.
Redundancy in a traditional PBX system required the purchase of a second PBX at a primary office or smaller secondary PBXs at satellite offices. These then required licensing, support, and maintenance. Finally, they required management by a team of telecom technicians or expensive outsourced telephony service contracts.
UCaaS providers offer their services from redundant data centers throughout the globe. This makes redundancy the responsibility of the UCaaS provider and not the customer. As UCaaS providers typically support thousands of customers, they can afford to invest in redundancy at a level not typically in the budget for most organizations. They are also using advanced tools to monitor the health of their network and have teams of engineers troubleshooting problems.
Additional redundancy and performance benefits are achieved by combining UCaaS with SD-WAN. SD-WAN solutions allow you to use multiple redundant internet links, including lower-cost broadband connectivity, for internet redundancy.
The UCaaS provider maintains the infrastructure and are held to an SLA. The provider is monitoring latency and uptime of the system. This eliminates maintenance costs and the need for expensive on-staff telephony engineers. Customers pay a reasonable monthly fee to the UCaaS provider, and maintenance is taken care of through the cloud service.
Contact Center as a Service
One of the most popular additions to a Unified Communications deployment is a Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) solution. Most UCaaS providers offer a CCaaS solution. CCaaS solutions are also called hosted contact centers or cloud contact centers.
Rather than a traditional call center that queues and accepts phone calls, CCaaS solutions are cloud-based platforms and allow you to interact with customers and team members over multiple channels. Additionally, they better gather and measure data on the customer experience.
CCaaS solutions offer unique features over traditional call centers, including:
Omnichannel allows you to interact with customers over voice, email, instant messaging, chat, and social channels. It also allows you to transition from one interaction methodology to another without customers repeating information. This increases first-call resolution and improves customer satisfaction. Internal communications are also improved.
CCaaS systems integrate with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms like Salesforce, HubSpot, Zendesk, and Zoho, allowing for customer communications to be stored in a central repository. Agents can click to dial or autodial from their CRM with automatic call logging.
CRM integration better ties together sales, support, delivery, and customer success, to give insight into the complete customer experience.
CCaaS solutions are augmenting their human agents with artificial intelligence, or AI. AI improves on the traditional IVR allowing virtual agents to answer basic inquiries and gather enough data to route customers to the appropriate human resource. It can also analyze conversations for clarity, intent, and agent effectiveness, allowing companies to measure and improve their contact center agents and customer satisfaction.
AI also enables text-to-speech capability. This allows AI to prompt agents, document action items, and transcribe conversations.
Who are the Key Providers in the UCaaS and CCaaS Market?
The UCaaS market is proliferating, and new service providers are entering the space every week. Gartner, a leading technology advisory and consulting firm famous for their “Magic Quadrant,” recognizes the following players in their “Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service”: 8×8, Cisco, Dialpad, Fuze, Google, GoTo, Mitel, RingCentral, Sangoma, Vonage, Wildix and Windstream.
The significant number of options can make picking the right solution time-consuming and confusing. Working with a UCaaS reseller and consultant like Brightlio will save you time and money and ensure you get the best UCaaS solution. We can advise you on the right solution for your needs, schedule demos with your preferred providers, and provide quotes.
We have also created helpful comparisons between Vonage and RingCentral, Dialpad and RingCentral, Ooma and Vonage, Dialpad and Google Voice, and Vonage and Google Voice to help aid your decision-making process.
CPaaS vs. UCaaS
Another technology gaining popularity in the space is Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS). CPaaS lets developers build their own communications features into cloud-based applications. This is often deployed by companies building communications features into their applications.
UCaaS offers a ready-made deployment with the cloud voice provider handling the tech stack. CPaaS is much more do-it-yourself, where you need to hire developers to build what you’re looking for.
While a CPaaS solution can be coded to replace a UCaaS system, they can also work as complementary solutions. UCaaS and CPaaS solutions can be deployed together with UCaaS supporting communications, and CPaaS offers another layer of communication between apps and customers.
Why Brightlio for your Unified Communications Needs?
The team at Brightlio are expert in Unified Communications. We differentiate ourselves from other UCaaS resellers through our expertise, friendly service, fast response times, and competitive pricing. We partner with the best UCaaS and CCaaS providers in the market and will help you pick the right solution for your technical needs and budget.
Quotes and solution designs are always free, so asking the Brightlio team for a quote is an easy decision. As a telecommunications broker, our commissions are paid by the provider meaning if you purchase a solution we recommend, there is no additional cost. We also offer other services, including colocation, network connectivity, cloud, SD-WAN, and data center and managed services advisory services.
If you need advice on a cloud communication platform for business, we would love to help. Start on a new project with Brightlio today!
If you enjoyed this Ultimate Guide, you might also enjoy Brightlio’s Ultimate Guide to Colocation.
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