It’s difficult to think of a time when the globe wasn’t so connected.

Mobile phone ownership and internet access are in the billions worldwide. In advanced economies, the median percentage of the population that owns a smartphone is 76%. And even in emerging economies, 83% of the population has access to some kind of mobile phone, on average. And worldwide, there are over 3.4 billion internet users.

For companies, this connectedness means there are so many opportunities to get in touch with customers. But that can be a double-edged sword.

Especially when equipped with smartphones, consumers expect to be able to connect with companies through various channels. On a single device, most consumers have access to voice, SMS, email, and social chat.

But how do you connect with customers over all those different channels without blowing half your tech budget on various types of communications software?

If you’ve asked yourself this question recently, it might be time to look into CPaaS technology.

 

What Is CPaaS?

Communications platform as a service (CPaaS) solutions allow you to add communication features to your existing programs or apps without investing in a full-blown (and expensive) unified communications platform (UCaaS).

Basically, CPaaS is a pick-and-choose market of APIs that allows you to offer seamless communication over a variety of channels through your existing app or site. But instead of bloating your code with more features, your developers can create these APIs in the cloud. This cloud environment makes real-time communication with your customers easy on the front-end without making coding on the back-end more difficult for your development team.

Healthcare organizations, for example, can add appointment scheduling to their site without investing in a whole new system they’ll have to integrate with their existing software. Similarly, rideshare apps can offer the in-app ability to call a driver without coding a new feature. Call centers can also look to these service providers to offer more communication options, such as web conferencing or omnichannel conversation tracking, to their customers and agents.

You can also find a more in-depth explanation of the communication services made possible through CPaaS platforms and their use cases in this blog post.

 

Important Factors In Our CPaaS Providers Comparison

To narrow down the list of CPaaS vendors fighting for the top position in the 2020 market, we focused on systems that offered the following features:

  • Visual builders allow your team to create communications features or workflow outlines without using code, speeding up the development process.
  • SDKs allow developers to more easily make changes to the communication API of your application so you can keep your systems updated across platforms.
  • Templates allow your developers to avoid starting from scratch when creating new features. Many popular features—in-app voice calls, for example—are templated to make life easier for your dev team.
  • SMS and voice routing let you connect customers to the most appropriate location. If you have a global presence, you can add a personal touch to your communications by sending customers to the call center or the agent located closest to their region or country.

We also compared the variety of communication channels APIs each system offered to make sure you can reach your customers wherever they are. In addition, we looked at pricing models for each solution so you can evaluate the starting costs for your business. And finally, we compared the uptime SLAs each company provided so you can be sure of staying in touch with your customers at all times.

Communication channel APIs Pricing model Free trial Uptime
Voice

SMS

MMS

Pay-As-You-Go Yes 99.95%
twilio logo Voice

SMS

Email

Chat

WhatsApp

Video

Pay-As-You-Go Yes 99.999%
Voice

SMS

WhatsApp

Pay-As-You-Go No (but offers a free package) 99.95%

 

Best CPaaS Solutions In 2020

The systems that came out on top in this year’s CPaaS market offered all four of the features discussed above and received at least 10 user reviews averaging over four stars (out of five) from various review sites.

 

1. Plivo

Plivo offers APIs for voice and SMS in nearly 200 countries. There’s also an API for MMS communication.

Using its SMS connector, you can send customer surveys, send automated alerts and reminders, or send two-factor authentication codes. SMS messages can also support rich media such as photos, gifs, and videos, so you can communicate with customers through more than just simple text.

With Plivo’s Voice API, you can create conference call bridges, forward calls to other phones, conduct surveys, and send audio alerts.

For developers, it offers a self-service platform that includes getting started guides and access to an extensive knowledge base. However, the pre-built templates and visual builder should cut down on the need for complicated code and speed up the development process.

  • Cost – Plivo offers pay-as-you-go pricing based on the services you use (SMS and voice APIs, SIP trunking, and phone numbers). However, you can also negotiate a lower price by creating a committed use plan with their sales team.
  • Who should look into Plivo? If you’re a business that wants to send multimedia SMS messages to customers, you might want to look into Plivo’s SMS and MMS APIs to create more engaging messages. However, if you’re looking to connect more channels, such as email or video, you might want to look into a platform with more API options.

In general, Plivo offers the lowest cost per SMS sent of all three of the systems we evaluated. So if your communications will largely be text-based, you might save some money over the long term.

 

2. Twilio

Twilio‘s APIs for voice, SMS, email, chat, WhatsApp, and video allow you to communicate with customers through most platforms you can think of.  With its “Conversations” API, you can build and monitor cross-channel communications, seamlessly connecting with customers via SMS, MMS, chat, and WhatsApp, giving you almost the full capabilities of a UCaaS.

Twilio boasts a network of eight million developers, so your team will have plenty of community support if they run into any issues. Its API references and documentation, quick start guides, and other developer tools will also help developers create cool, useful cloud communication options for your users.

twilio studio - Twilio's visual builder
Twilio Studio – the app’s visual builder

The visual builder will also come in handy for your team, whether they’re developers or not. And non-devs can even learn some coding basics from its free interactive game, TwilioQuest. Whoever is in charge of creating your communications features, Twilio’s many templates will help get feature building off to a quick start.

  • Cost – Twilio operates on a pay-as-you-go pricing model for the following services:
    • Programmable voice
    • Programmable SMS
    • Email API
    • WhatsApp API
    • Elastic SIP trunking
    • Programmable chat
    • Cross-channel conversations
    • Programmable video
    • Programmable wireless

If your usage goes up for any of these services, the provider also offers volume-based discounts to accommodate lower costs per call or text. In addition, if you know you’ll use Twilio’s services on a regular basis, you can work with their sales team to create a discounted plan based on committed use.

  • Who should look into Twilio?
    If you’re looking to connect with customers on many platforms, Twilio offers APIs on the largest variety of channels out of the three systems discussed in this post. It also has the best uptime (99.999%) of all three systems and serves nearly 175 thousand businesses in over 100 countries. That means the provider guarantees no more downtime than five minutes and 15 seconds per year—compared to eight hours and 46 minutes per year with a 99.9% downtime SLA. So you know you’ll be able to stay connected with your customers wherever they are and wherever your contact centers are located. However, of the pay-as-you-go systems, Twilio’s services start at the highest volume cost.

With its wide variety of services and higher starting costs, Twilio might be a better fit for larger organizations looking for a robust solution. However, smaller businesses still looking for access to a wide variety of APIs could negotiate lower costs with a committed-use plan.

Related:

» Twilio Plans, Pricing, Features in 2020: A Closer Look at All Their Products

» Top 5 Twilio Alternatives in 2020

 

3. MessageBird

MessageBird offers SMS, voice, and WhatsApp APIs to create seamless communication channels for your customers. The company is also working on a product called “Conversations,” which will eventually offer connections through more communication channels via one API. However, this product is still in beta, so we’re unable to elaborate on how it works at this time.

messagebird flow builder
Messagebird’s flow builder (Source)

Developers can use the available APIs to reach customers on multiple platforms through custom features. If they encounter any issues, its API references, quick start guides, and tutorials should help your team get past any development obstacles. However, MessageBird also provides templates for popular features such as phone menus, customer support via SMS, or forwarding texts to email.

  • Cost – MessageBird’s pricing model for its APIs is pay-as-you-go. Your cost is based on your usage of any of the following APIs and services:
    • Local SMS
    • Voice calling
    • Text-to-speech
    • Voice numbers
    • SMS numbers
    • Shortcode
    • Lookup and HLR
  • Who should look into MessageBird?
     With the promise of its single API for omnichannel communications, MessageBird is definitely a company to keep your eye for future communications API needs. For now, its SMS, voice, and WhatsApp APIs can help cover basic customer communication.

If you’re largely looking to make voice communications easier, you’ll definitely want to consider MessageBird. Its cost per call is nearly half that of either Twilio or Plivo, whether you’re placing or receiving calls.

 

Honorable Mention: Vonage APIs

Vonage combines the power of products formerly known as Nexmo and TokBox to offer a suite of communications possibilities. It offers voice, SMS, social messaging, video, and email APIs, among other capabilities.

Vonage APIs dashboard
Create various connections to your apps with Vonage’s APIs

Since Vonage’s API platform is a newer product, it didn’t quite garner the number of reviews the other systems we evaluated had. Nor did it offer a visual builder to speed up development for less technical creators. However, its developer tools library translated into six languages, many quick start guides, and tutorials, and a developer community of over 900 thousand, builders who find themselves stuck have plenty of resources to turn to.

  • Cost – Vonage doesn’t list its pricing. However, it does offer a free trial so your developers can try it out.
  • Who should look into Vonage?
    Vonage bills its CPaaS platform as a good fit for small businesses or enterprises. However, its lack of a visual editor means that companies without a development team or capable third-party contractors might have to work harder to use Vonage’s APIs effectively. But its massive template library might make up for that obstacle.

For companies with developers on staff, Vonage’s APIs for many different channels make it a powerful tool to add communication possibilities to apps and sites. In terms of different types of APIs, it’s the only product on this list that rivals Twilio’s offerings.

 

Find The Right CPaaS Provider

Communicating with customers will always be a top priority for businesses everywhere. But every company’s communication needs are different. CPaaS technology allows you to create a customized communications system without investing in tons of new software or systems.

The top systems of 2020 will allow you to reach customers in ways that work for them and for your business. However, if you’d like to further evaluate your options, you can always head to our CPaaS providers reviews and directory, to find more solutions that could work for your company.