Business communications is steadily evolving. How are you reaching your customers, and how is your team collaborating? There are two major buzzwords when you’re talking about how businesses stay in the loop: VoIP and Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS. In this guide, we’re going to explain each and show you how the two technologies differ.

 

What is VoIP?

VoIP, which stands for voice over internet protocol, is a technology that uses the internet to emulate the traditional calling process. VoIP service connects seamlessly with standard public switched telephone networks (PSTN) without many of the limitations associated with these lines. VoIP is less reliant on hardware. With PSTN, you’re tethered to century-old copper lines, which must be hardwired to your endpoints (phones).

With PSTN, these wires have to be maintained, which is why long-distance calling costs extra. With VoIP connections, technology is used to transmit your voice over the internet via data packets. They are encrypted as you make your call and transmitted to another VoIP phone or a traditional landline. Much of the hardware that fosters landline calls is extraneous with VoIP, so there’s no need for massive long-distance charges. In fact, most VoIP providers fold in U.S. and Canada calling for no extra charge in their plans.

All of the features that you might find on a standard landline phone are available with VoIP. This includes Do Not Disturb, caller ID, voicemail, and call forwarding. VoIP even offers features like:

  • Remote Call Forwarding – This allows you to send calls to where you need them, even when you’re on mobile.
  • Virtual Phone Numbers – These allow you to use vanity numbers (i.e. 1-800-YOURBIZ), local numbers, or toll-free numbers to expand the reach of your business.
  • Advanced Call RoutingHosted IVR and auto attendant are cloud based, hardware-free routing systems. These technologies send callers to the right department via menus and provide self-service options.

VoIP is much more versatile than traditional on-premise PBX phone service. For example, with PSTN calling, you’re limited to phone communications. With VoIP, you can receive and make calls on desk phones, softphones that are cloud-based software, and on Apple iOS, Windows Phone, and Google Android smartphone devices. This makes communications more seamless, and several technologies exist to foster a quick change between VoIP endpoints with no downtime.

Pros Cons
Unlimited calling to some regions of the world. VoIP is limited by connection speed. With slower connections, there’s a higher incidence of packet loss.
Easily upgradeable with add-on features typically being made available at higher plans. The potential for VoIP security issues if you don’t protect your network.
Reliable, especially if the provider has a geo-redundant server setup. Location tracking is limited on VoIP calls because there is no call tower or GPS data associated with calls made on VoIP. This becomes a problem for things like 911 calling.
High call quality if you have the connection to support it. When calling over a computer or smartphone, processing power demands will affect VoIP calling quality.

 

What is UCaaS?

UCaaS a unified platform of communication technologies that businesses use to foster any and all communication and collaboration internally and externally. In days gone by, the occasional conference room was used that would connect two offices via traditional phone connections. These days, providers like Zoom, 8×8, RingCentral, and Nextiva, deliver web conferencing solutions and other tools that teams use to stay connected. These are specifically useful when geographic distances separate teams.

For example, a full-on video conference isn’t needed to communicate with a single colleague. One unified communication tool that providers grant is business chat. Like instant messaging programs, business chat solutions provide a text-based way for colleagues to speak to one another. Through the chat app, the team members quickly share ideas and files when needed.

Another UCaaS solution function that’s often folded into the offerings of most providers is screen share. Screen share is a conferencing tool that team members use to show their colleagues what’s happening on their desktops/smartphone screens. This is useful when giving PowerPoint presentations or when demoing new software.

Project management tools are also often included in unified communications suites. These help managers track workflows and assign tasks to team members while keeping features like conferencing and file sharing available for the team to use.

Web conferencing, chat, project management, and screen sharing are all useful remote work tools, but unified communications stands out because of the ability to integrate each into a seamless experience. Some UC suites allow you to shift a one-on-one chat to a video conference with only a few clicks.

In fact, integration is one of the most essential features of a unified communications as a service (UCaaS) tool. With many solutions, your UCaaS platform interfaces with third-party software like Salesforce, Miscrosoft, Oracle, and more. When this happens, your team chats and calls prospects directly from the CRM.

Unified communications is making some significant headway in contact centers. Based on a study by Frost and Sullivan, Unified Communication and collaboration (UCC) improves productivity (85%), accelerates decision making (84%), improves customer experience (83%), and boosts innovation (82%).

Pros Cons
Seamless interoperability between various communication applications. Some unified communications systems require specialized network and computing hardware. This makes the conversion to unified communications expensive.
Increased collaboration between team members. There’s always an adaptation period when it comes to adopting new technology. When first deployed, some UC solutions may go underutilized.
Better tracking of projects through project management software. Not all systems are equal. Some providers have high-quality video conferencing, but other UC tools in their UCaaS suite are not as strong.
With options for chat, conferencing, application and file sharing, and project management, unified communications make information sharing more efficient. Like VoIP, unified communications is tethered to a strong internet connection. Spotty service or a slow connection severely hampers the efficiency of a UC solution.

 

UCaaS vs VoIP: The Complete Breakdown

VoIP UCaaS
Multiple Endpoints
Available on Mobile Devices
Time to Implement Minutes Depends on Hardware
Communications channels Voice Voice

Text (SMS and Chat)

Video

Audio

Average Cost per Month $19 to $25 per user $30 to $40 per user
Conferencing Type Audio Video and Audio
Maintenance and Patching This is the responsibility of the service provider. Updates are free. This is the responsibility of the UCaaS provider. Updates are free.
Critical Features
  • Virtual numbers
  • Caller ID
  • Voicemail
  • Call routing
  • Do Not Disturb (DND)
  • Call recording
  • Audio conferencing
  • Call monitoring
  • Call forwarding
  • Number porting
  • Call logs
  • Multiple communication channels
  • Integrations
  • Workforce collaboration
  • Mobile presence features
  • Webinars and video conferencing
  • Advanced voicemail features like visual voicemail and voicemail to text
Primary Use Calling customers and colleagues Communication across multiple channels with customers and colleagues

By now, you can see that VoIP and unified communications are two powerful technologies that foster better communications. Still, how do the two technologies compare? It’s important to understand that both unified communications and VoIP solutions are paired together by many providers.

For example, RingCentral has both unified communications and VoIP features in all RingCentral pricing plans. With their base-level offering, the Essentials Plan, you’re granted unlimited calls within the U.S. and Canada as well as team messaging and document sharing. The amount of unified communications features significantly expands as you navigate to higher tiers.

Even with that in mind, VoIP is somewhat limited when looking at the broader scale. With just VoIP, you’re only going to have voice calling. It doesn’t incorporate much outside of point-to-point calls and features like caller ID and virtual numbers. It presents savings over traditional calling, but it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all of business communications.

UCaaS packages, on the other hand, tend to incorporate VoIP calling into their broader suites of communications solutions. This allows you to chat with a colleague and instantly change the chat into an internet-powered call or conference with a few key presses.

Unified communications has a significantly broader scope than simple VoIP calling since UC is focused on all areas of a business’s communications profile. UC is also used to collaborate or communicate with customers via omnichannel methods like SMS and email very easily.

Do these technologies interact on a technical level? They definitely do. Both VoIP and unified communications are dependent on the session initiation protocol (SIP). SIP is a protocol that allows for the opening and closing of data connections, which makes SIP a stable option for SIP calling or just for information transfers. VoIP needs SIP to set up calls and connect them to existing PSTN networks – it defines the messages sent and establishes and closes the connection when needed.

UCaaS also uses SIP for all of its functions. If you’re going to be opening a chat, a conference, file sharing, or are sending assignments through workflow software, then SIP is used in most UCaaS packages to manage and close connections.

Since both of these technologies are dependent on SIP, it’s no surprise that they are often interconnected. For this reason, it’s better to find a provider that delivers both technologies so that you have a stronger business communications profile. Still, if you find that your business doesn’t need the collaboration features, a simple VoIP calling solution will save you money, especially if you’re making extensive long-distance calls.

Unified communications almost always requires some form of hardware investment, especially if you don’t have the existing network or computer architecture to support the software requirements. Still, those incorporating UCaaS are often more mobile, especially when a crisis occurs, and there’s a need for remote work. MIT found that, in April of 2020, 34% of workers that were previously commuting were working from home using unified communications tools.

 

VoIP and Unified Communications Go Hand-in-Hand

Simply put, broaden your business communications abilities by embracing both VoIP and UC.

There are several points of intersection between the two types of business communication technologies, there are several enterprise VoIP providers who will help you get started.