17 January 2018

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UCaaS vs. VoIP: What’s the Difference?

Unified Communications by Tom Collins

If you’ve just gotten used to the idea of running your business voice communications over an data (IP) connection, you may have heard that companies are now going for a full, unified suite of cloud communication tools.

If your plain old telephones (PoTs) just aren’t cutting it, your phone company declared bankruptcy, or you’re looking for an upgrade, you’re probably wondering about the difference between VoIP and UCaaS, and how they stack up.

VoIP vs. UCaaS: What's the Difference?

While voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology was developed in the 1970s, it first started to gain traction as a tool for business phone calling in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Similarly, while aspects of Unified-communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) technology have also been around for decades, the trend towards switching cloud apps for business was partially popularized by tech giants like Amazon and Google around a decade ago.

If you’re looking for a clear, simple answer of whether VoIP vs. UCaaS is better, you’ll be disappointed. Many organizations have clear use cases for unifying their business communications in the cloud and will unlock the greatest benefits by picking UCaaS. However, some other organizations have needs that are best met by VoIP. Read on to learn the difference between these two types of business communication technology, and how to know which is best for you.

What is VoIP?

VoIP is an acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol, which also may be referred to as “IP Telephony,” “IP Phones” or “Internet Phones.” VoIP is an alternative to traditional phone service delivered by a traditional telephone communications provider over cabling. In 2011, it was declared the fastest-growing technology of the past decade, 2000-2010--beating out search engines, online shopping, and internet dating.

As a well-established, common route for organizations to unlock cost savings on business voice communications, VoIP is not a new technology and is not considered a high-risk way to manage your business calls. The vast majority of businesses who switch to VoIP from traditional telephones unlock massive cost savings, simpler contact center management, and more features. To learn more, check out The Top 6 Benefits of Moving to a VoIP Telephone System.

How Business-Class VoIP Works

VoIP is implemented on-site using a special adaptor that connects to your internet service provider, rather than using telephone cables that are installed by a telephone company. VoIP calls can be made on-site using internet-compatible handsets  or softphones, and generally includes advanced features and built-in mobility. These services can be managed in-house (on-premises) or delivered as cloud-based phone services through an agreement with a hosted VoIP vendor.

Most enterprise-class VoIP providers automatically offer call features that include call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding, three-way calling, voicemail, and call blocking. To make sure you know the difference between VoIP that’s designed for the needs of a business and consumer VoIP services like Skype and Vonage, read into 9 Keys to Finding the Best VoIP Service Provider for Your Business (And How to Switch Providers Seamlessly).

7 Use Cases and Benefits of VoIP vs. Alternatives

VoIP isn’t really an alternative to UCaaS, because UCaaS services include VoIP calling. VoIP is the right choice for some organizations, especially firms who are comparing the benefits of VoIP vs. traditional phone service options like publicly-switched telephone networks. For organizations who need simpler, cheaper phone calling, VoIP is a valuable option for:

  1. Significant monthly cost savings, especially on interoffice calling, long-distance and international calling
  2. Simpler phone lines management, including the instant ability to add and remove phone lines
  3. Cost-effective, easier contact center management
  4. Access to add-on features such as automated call distribution, interactive voice recognition and remote phone lines management.
  5. Mobility, including convenient mobile apps that allow mobile access to business calls and voicemails
  6. The potential to scale from VoIP to UCaaS with a vendor who offers both options
  7. The potential to bundle data and phone service through the same vendor, saving costs and achieving simpler troubleshooting

What is UCaaS?

UCaaS stands for Unified-Communications-as-a-Service, also known as Unified Cloud Communications. It’s an approach to unifying business communication tools into a single, streamlined platform; bringing together services such as VoIP, video conferencing, collaboration tools, file sharing, instant messaging, and more. The exact tools that comprise UCaaS can vary between organizations. However, UCaaS is defined by two things:

  1. As-a-Service: Unified Communications apps are hosted and delivered “as-a-service” by a cloud communication tools vendor.
  2. User Experience: Unifying communications tools results in a streamlined user experience that provides a single user interface and a consistent experience across devices, including sending and receiving messages in multiple forms (voice, text, instant message, email) through a single user app on multiple platforms--computer, tablet, or mobile device.

UCaaS is delivered through a service agreement with a Unified Communications vendor who will implement the necessary infrastructure and a Unified Communications platform, though some organizations do opt for an on-premises deployment of Unified Communications tools using private cloud resources. Adoption of UCaaS is soaring; Forbes projects that 80 percent of IT budgets will be dedicated to cloud apps and solutions within 15 months.

While adopting UCaaS can lead to remarkable cost savings and productivity gains, smart vendor selection and an eye towards process improvement can be key to satisfaction post-adoption. Learn more in 5 Ways to Get Maximum Value from Unified Communications as a Service.

7 Use Cases and Benefits of UCaaS vs. Alternatives

UCaaS isn’t necessarily an alternative to VoIP in the strictest sense, but it’s not uncommon for organizations to consider whether to implement VoIP only or do a full UCaaS implementation. In all cases, UCaaS will include IP telephony. UCaaS can be an alternative to on-premises Unified Communications tools, a VoIP-only implementation, or a non-unified suite of business communication tools that include a mixture of cloud apps and traditional software and multiple vendors.

However, organizations trying to decide between UCaaS and a hosted VoIP-only implementation may prefer UCaaS if their needs include:

  1. Lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) across communications and cloud communications tools
  2. Integrate video features, including video conferencing, web conferencing, and screen sharing
  3. Simpler communication and management across multiple sites or locations
  4. Developing strong business continuity and disaster management processes, including broadcast via voice phones, instant messages, text, and email.
  5. Increase productivity and decrease error by integrating data across apps, including Salesforce, Office 365, Twitter, and more.
  6. Improve the customer experience by unifying channels, including chat, email, and phones.
  7. Support mobility or move to a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) culture with simple, secure employee communication apps.

To learn more, we recommend 11 Valuable Business Benefits of Unified Communications as a Service.

VoIP vs. UCaaS: Which One is Best for My Business?

Is VoIP or UCaaS the right choice for your business? Ultimately, that depends on your organization, your technology roadmap, and your communication needs. For some small, businesses whose employees do very little remote work and digital collaboration, VoIP may be the right choice to access cost savings, mobility and reliable, high-quality business communications.

For other organizations like Montgomery College who need to create a strong groundwork for multi-site collaboration, employee mobility, and rapid-technological change, there’s no question that UCaaS is the way to go. If you’re still not entirely sure where you fall on the spectrum of VoIP vs. UCaaS, consider the following questions:

1. Do You Need Video?

One of the most-beloved features of UCaaS is missing from VoIP: video communications. Data reveals that video has benefits as a corporate communications tool. 93 percent of communication is nonverbal, so video could spell fewer miscommunications as your business scales to global teams. Businesses using video conferencing spend 30 percent less on business travel, while 66 percent of job candidates report higher satisfaction with a potential employer when they’re able to do video interviews instead of phone screens.

For many companies, video is the tipping point when it comes to choosing between VoIP or UCaaS. Video conferencing can allow your organization to conduct interactive meetings, share screens, connect with clients, and help clients troubleshoot issues in record time.

2. Are You Trying to Achieve Flexible, Multi-Media Communications?

Your customers may still prefer to call your contact center over sending a chat or email, but there’s a good chance your youngest employees hate voice calling. Among millennial smartphone owners who prefer messaging, text, and social media, the phone is the fifth most-used app.

Unified communications allows your employees to communicate in the ways they find most comfortable, convenient, and effective; whether that’s chat message, voicemail, or text message. By unifying messages into a single, integrated inbox, the best UCaaS platforms ensure that no business communication is left behind.

3. Do You Need Smarter, Integrated Collaboration?

Organizations are realizing the value of unifying their project management and task management tools with communication platforms, with the help of tools like Broadsoft’s Team-One. Through a mobile-accessible hub, employees can share documents, engage in simultaneous document editing, track task progress, and securely share calendars and task loads.

Better yet, the best UCaaS platforms also integrate with the document management and productivity apps that your organization is already using. Your contact center representatives can instantly get the context they need when a client calls in, thanks to instant data population via integration with Salesforce or another CRM. Your employees can use familiar spreadsheet tools like Excel when collaborating in the team hub. For organizations with global teams, complex projects, or many different apps, UCaaS can enable superior productivity.

4. What Kind of Flexibility Do You Need?

Both VoIP and UCaaS are more flexible than alternatives. However, UCaaS offers extensive flexibility in services, especially if you partner with vendors who offer dedicated port connection to a Cloud Exchange.

With VoIP, you can instantly add and subtract phone lines, and offer more features to certain employees on an as-needed basis. With UCaaS and Cloud Exchange, your firm can instantly access services from a massive marketplace of partner cloud vendors, including cloud apps, infrastructure-on-demand, and cloud backup.

5. Do You Need Tougher Security and Smarter Troubleshooting?

The cliche phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup” has some weight in the IT realm. When something goes down on a complicated network that’s filled with a mixture of vendors and solutions, it’s time-consuming to pinpoint the problem. UCaaS enables organizations to develop a single vendor relationship, including smarter troubleshooting. The hosted cloud apps vendor can perform proactive maintenance and upgrades, and monitor quality.

Making the Right Kind of Switch to Cloud Communications Tools

Anyone who tells you that you need to decide permanently between VoIP or UCaaS today is definitely selling something, and it’s probably not a best-of-class enterprise communications solution. The question you shouldn’t be asking is “VoIP or UCaaS.” It’s which cloud communication apps your business needs today, and how to partner with a vendor that can support your technology roadmap and growth goals over the next few years.

Fortunately, with the right vendor, you don’t need to jump feet first into UCaaS overnight. You can make the switch to VoIP and install fiber-optic internet connectivity to immediately unlock cost savings on your business calling, and gradually make the switch to integrated, cloud communication tools in a way that makes sense for your business.

To learn how to evaluate potential cloud communication vendors for VoIP or UCaaS on price, value, security, platform and other key business requirements, we recommend 10 Questions to Ask Before Switching to Unified Communications as a Service for Your Business. Atlantech_Unified-Communications-as-a-Service_UCaaS







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t-tom-collins

About the author:

Tom Collins (Twitter, LinkedIn) - is the Director of Enterprise Sales & Marketing for Atlantech Online. He has over 20 years of professional experience in the Internet Service Provider industry and is known for translating technology into positive results for business. A native of Washington, DC, a graduate from University of Maryland (degrees in Government & Politics and Secondary Education), Tom is also a five-time Ironman finisher.

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