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UCaaS vs. CPaaS: What’s the Difference and How to Choose?

This article was updated on December 28, 2023

Acronyms are the shared language of cloud-based technologies: Add "aaS" after any letter, and chances are you've found another cloud solution. But when it comes to the communications showdown of UCaaS vs. CPaaS, it's worth cracking the acronym code. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about these two popular communications solutions. What exactly is the difference between Unified Communications as a Service and Communications Platform as a Service? How do they work? And which comes out ahead? We’ll also explore when it makes sense to choose one option over the other, along with when it makes sense to combine both services.

Illustration of a hand holding a cell phone, showing an ongoing VoIP conversation. In the background is an open laptop, showing a UCaaS dashboard.

UCaaS vs. CPaaS: What’s the Difference?

UCaaS and CPaas are both cloud-based communications solutions on a service model. But there’s a key distinction between these two solutions.

The main difference between UCaaS and CPaaS solutions is customization. UCaaS solutions combine a large number of pre-existing tools in a single package, while CPaaS solutions allow companies to easily create their own communication features via APIs. Think of it like one-size-fits-all versus made-to-order.

UCaaS solutions include traditional communication tools, such as conferencing and VoIP calls. Popular UCaaS options also often include features like collaboration tools and cloud-hosted solutions. With UCaaS, you can get a pre-existing suite of tools with something for everyone.

CPaaS solutions, on the other hand, allow you to build a suite of communication tools as you see fit. With CPaaS, you can add communication features to your own applications. These features are added via APIs, making it easy to add new functionality to internal or customer-facing apps.

What Is UCaaS?

Standing for "unified communications as a service," UCaaS provides companies with an all-in-one suite of internal communication tools. UCaaS is typically used to integrate multiple tools across the enterprise by leveraging cloud-based resources.

What Is CPaaS?

CPaaS, or "communications platform as a service," is a collection of communications APIs that can add communications features to other applications. CPaaS technology lets developers add their own real-time communications features and tools into cloud-based applications without the need to develop and build new back-end infrastructure.

Comparing UCaaS and CPaaS

If you're thinking these two offerings sound deceptively similar, you're right.

UCaaS and CPaaS both rely on the cloud to offload key communication functions. What’s more, both make it easier for companies to access high-bandwidth, low-latency tools and services.

Despite their overlap, UCaaS and CPaaS each have distinct features and functions. For example, there are key differences "under the hood" for each option. Consider the cloud stack: Software as a Service (SaaS) vs. Platform as a Service (PaaS).

UCaaS fits comfortably into the Software as a Service category, since it's effectively a large-scale communications application that both unifies existing tools and adds new services.

CPaaS, meanwhile, is part of the Platform as a Service category, as it requires more effort from enterprises to customize, modify, and implement.

Benefits of UCaaS and CPaaS Software

Both UCaaS and CPaaS offer measurable benefits for enterprises, including:

  • Cost control: Since both technologies leverage the cloud, it's possible to scale up on demand. CPaaS layers on top of existing stacks, while UCaaS reduces the overall need for hardware investment and maintenance.

  • Ease of use: Implementing UCaaS and CPaaS solutions isn't complex. Users can access them the same way they access traditional communication tools.

  • Access to innovation: CPaaS and UCaaS solutions feature innovative technology, such as chatbots and mobile UC apps, that would be cost-prohibitive for companies to develop on their own.

  • Improved outcomes: Customizing APIs requires expertise, but far less time than developing back-end infrastructures. The unified nature of UCaaS makes it possible for employees to work seamlessly across devices and networks.

When To Use CPaaS Over UCaaS (and Vice Versa)

UCaaS and CPaaS require different organizational strategies. For example, to get the most out of customizable CPaaS deployments, companies must either hire in-house developers or partner with trusted third parties to create and manage API implementations. Additionally, companies must keep a running tab of which APIs are in use, which functions they support, and how they impact the communications stack as a whole.

For UCaaS deployments, the key is to manage and monitor use: How do staff and customers interact with the system? Are there areas where expectations don't match reality — say, for example, when it comes to mobile UC apps? Can existing bandwidth keep up with demands from multimedia, VoIP, and collaboration tools? Does the UCaaS platform enable integration with key business applications like the CRM and office productivity suite?

At the end of the day, it comes down to the level of customization you need and the resources you can invest. 

Of course, in some situations, you might even consider using both.

Using UCaaS and CPaaS Together

Because UCaaS and CPaaS offer such different solutions, you don’t necessarily need to choose between one or the other. In many cases, businesses can benefit from combining UCaaS and CPaaS together.

CPaaS generally helps improve collaboration, while UCaaS better benefits internal communications. The customizable nature of CPaaS makes it naturally consumer-focused: With tech-savvy customers now demanding top-tier service from companies of any size and vertical, the evolving nature of CPaaS gives enterprises the ability to meet and exceed customer expectations. UCaaS is specifically designed to unify internal communications processes and provide user-friendly channels among corporate devices and platforms.

But this isn't an either/or situation. The UCaaS vs. CPaaS discussion brings up advantages on both sides, and companies can benefit from combining the two. You can deploy a UCaaS solution to consolidate your corporate communications, and then layer a CPaaS offering on top of new stacks to improve your customer communications. And since the cloud underpins both services, these solutions will work in unison.

So which comes out ahead? It depends on the metrics and your expectations. Your best bet? Leverage both technologies to maximize the impact of cloud communication for your business.

Want to combine the power of UCaaS and CPaaS? Contact Vonage  to learn more about solutions and pricing for your business.

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Want to know more about weighing UCaaS and/or CPaaS for your business? We’re here to help! Call us at 1-844-365-9460, or fill out this form! A dedicated specialist will show you:

  • The differences — and similarities — of Unified Communications as a Service and Communications Platform as a Service solutions
  • How CPaaS solutions allow companies to easily create their own communication features using communications APIs
  • How both solutions can deliver cost savings, ease of use, access to innovative technology, and more

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