CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) provides turnkey, API-powered app functionalities a la carte – no complicated backend infrastructure or expensive new hardware required.
Read on to learn more about what CPaaS is, how it’s different from other Software as a Service models, and key CpaaS functions keep customers happy and business processes efficient.
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- What is CPaaS?
- How Does CPaaS Work?
- The Difference Between CPaaS vs UCaaS
- Key CPaaS Functions
- CPaaS Pros and Cons
- Common CPaaS Use Cases
- How To Choose A CPaaS Provider
- Top CPaaS Providers
- CPaaS FAQs
What Is CPaaS?
CPaaS (Communications Platform as a Service) is a cloud-based software as a service that lets developers add communication, customer service, and automation features to existing business applications and software.
Other SaaS suites, like UCaaS or CCaaS, require businesses to purchase bundled monthly plans that often include features they don’t need.
With CPaaS, functions like live chat, SMS texting, voice calling, and user authentication are available individually and on a pay-as-you-go basis. This flexibility means businesses can select only the features their app currently needs – and add new features at any time.
The concept may sound difficult to grasp, but in reality, most of us interact with business apps that have benefitted from CPaaS frequently.
One familiar example is your healthcare provider’s app, which you likely use to check test results, complete and upload pre-appointment paperwork, or exchange secure in-app messages with your doctor. CPaaS-powered healthcare apps may also send appointment reminder notifications, host telehealth appointments via video call, and (unfortunately) send out medical bills.
How Does CPaaS Work?
CPaaS works by leveraging programmable Communications APIs and SDKs into your application, offering a high level of app customization without requiring a complete digital transformation.
An API (Application Programming Interface) is a programming tool that gives developers access to external application features and functions by establishing communication between your app and the third-party software with the feature you need.
Think of an API as a kind of communications middleman, or a translator between your existing application and another.
CPaaS gives users access to Communication APIs – such as a Voice API.
Your developers then integrate that Voice API into your existing application, which gives your app the ability to make and receive VoIP voice calls. Developers can add as many APIs to your existing app as you’d like.
An SDK (Software Development Kit) is a suite of software development tools that makes it easier and faster for developers to build applications. Because an SDK is more of a “complete” developer tool than a single API, most SDKs contain APIs – as well as code libraries and samples, debuggers, developer documentation, and app testing tools.
Think of the SDK as the recipe for baking a cake from scratch, and an API as a store-bought cake mix that requires the baker to add just a few key ingredients to make.
CPaaS solutions offer both SDKs and APIs, but primarily focus on communications APIs.
The Difference Between CPaaS vs UCaaS
The main difference between CPaaS vs UCaaS is that while CPaaS gives businesses access to a la carte communication APIs to enhance existing applications, UCaaS provides a complete, out-of-the-box communications platform that comes ready-made with numerous communication features and communication channels.
CPaaS offers a higher level of customization than UCaaS, but requires much more software development and coding.
That’s why most CPaaS users either have an in-house IT and development team, or have the coding experience and knowledge required to work with APIs and SDKs themselves.
To many, UCaaS (Unified Communications as a Service) platforms are more convenient, since they come pre-loaded with cloud communications features.
But as a result, UCaaS users often end up paying for features or communication channels they don’t need – and that are completely controlled by the UCaaS provider.
CPaaS certainly requires more technical knowledge, but it allows users greater overall control, more flexibility, and lets them keep their existing apps.
Key CPaaS Functions
Although there are APIs for almost anything you can imagine, there are a few key CPaaS functions any quality provider should offer.
These APIs streamline in-app customer communications, improve your app’s user experience, and increase overall customer engagement. They also keep information secure, automate business processes, offer new communications channels to put you ahead of your competition.
Below, we’ll list and briefly explain key CPaaS functions service providers should offer.
Voice Communication APIs
In addition to in-app inbound and outbound phone calls, voice communication APIs include:
- Voice messaging and text-to-speech
- Call recording and transcription
- Call routing
- Caller ID
- Answering Machine Detection
- Video Conferencing
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR) with Speech Recognition and NLP
- WebRTC calling (Real-time communications features via webhooks)
- Audio Conferencing
- SIP Trunking
- Number Masking
- Local/Toll-Free Phone Number APIs
- Number Masking to protect the personal information of agents and customers
- Call queuing (as in contact center solutions)
CPaaS lets you add numerous messaging communications capabilities to your communications stack, including SMS and MMS text messaging, web messaging, social media messaging, email, and in-app chat messaging.
Dedicated short codes for text messaging, dedicated SMS numbers, and automatic long message splitting are common messaging functions.
Both two-way, real-time chat messaging and automated chatbots can be used for things like:
- Automated appointment reminders
- Schedule updates/changes
- Order/shipping updates and confirmations
- Bulk messaging and group messaging
- SMS APIs for marketing/marketing automation
- Messaging via WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, etc.
- Other real-time alerts and push notifications
- File sharing
- Customer or technical support
- Customer polls and surveys
In addition to communication services, APIs provide user authentication and verification functions like:
- Cross-channel two-factor authentication
- Account login attempt push notifications
- Voice authentication
- Format, Carrier, and Caller Lookups
- Verification Codes
Third-Party Integration APIs
Most providers offer APIs that allow users to integrate third-party applications, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Salesforce, etc. into their existing custom applications.
Additional API Functions
In addition to the above-mentioned functions, many CPaaS platforms offer APIs for:
- Omnichannel communication
- Task management and automated workflows
- E911 services
- Analytics and reporting
- IoT (Internet of Things)
- Phone Number Lookup
CPaaS Pros and Cons
Below, we’ve outlined the most common pros and cons of CPaaS solutions based on user and developer reviews, as well as feedback from top business software platforms.
|CPaaS Pros||CPaaS Cons|
|Offers highly customizable, scalable a la carte channels and functions for existing business applications||Requires a pre-built business application (or the development of one via SDKs)|
|CPaaS functions improve the customer experience by empowering apps with personalization, lowered wait times, and a more streamlined resolution process||Adding too many APIs to applications can impact its speed, causing lags/delays|
|Allows apps to benefit from omnichannel communication||Potential security risks (DoS attacks, stolen credentials, hacking, etc.)|
Common CPaaS Use Cases
Given that CPaaS and APIs allow users to build almost anything, there are virtually no limits to how businesses can use, create, and scale their own tools.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most popular CPaaS use cases.
CPaaS exploded in popularity with healthcare providers as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic – especially Video APIs for HIPAA-compliant telemedicine appointments.
Remote patient monitoring via the Internet of Things (IoT) allows medical professionals to keep an eye on levels and readings from integrated medical devices from afar.
Patients can also use CPaaS features to book and manage appointments online or via a practice’s mobile app, sign up for appointment reminders, refill prescriptions, and even complete patient intake forms prior to appointments.
Medical professionals can then review these forms, send prescriptions to pharmacies, and access patient insurance information.
Within the financial industry, CPaaS is used in customer interactions like automatic bank balance notifications, check deposits, one-on-one client video meetings, and sending out secure forms and documents.
Clients can also apply for loans and get real-time updates about the status of their loan applications.
Those using CPaaS within the finance industry should always check with regulatory agencies to ensure that they are following the proper compliance requirements when communicating with clients or sharing sensitive data via CPaaS solutions.
CPaaS is the preferred business software of many brick-and-mortar and online retailers.
Shops can send out segmented special discount codes, sale alerts, in-store event registrations, and other offers based on a customer’s shopping industry. They can also let clients know when popular products have sold out or have been restocked via SMS marketing.
Most importantly, CPaaS solutions let retailers provide detailed, real-time delivery updates and order confirmations.
Shoppers can see when a shipping label was created, a package’s current location, select a preferred delivery time, and even see who signed for a package.
Hospitality Management and Travel
In addition to viewing and booking flights, tours, and hotel rooms with the click of a button, hospitality and travel industries use CPaaS to alert travelers to delayed/canceled flights, gate changes, available upgrades, and room changes.
Guests can easily place room service orders, book spa services, or directly message hotel management for any other needs.
Hotels can also send check-out reminders, special discounts/offers, and provide a high level of personalized suggestions and service via SMS messaging. Integrating these APIs with hotel phone systems makes things even easier.
Real estate agents can use CPaaS solutions — especially messaging APIs — to communicate with potential buyers/renters directly on their website or in their business mobile app.
Potential homeowners can book an in-person home tour, sign up for newsletters, or even take a private or public virtual tour where they have the opportunity to ask the real estate agent questions about the property in real-time.
Agents can send out appointment reminders, facilitate communication solutions between buyer and seller, send forms and contracts for clients to complete, and securely provide property addresses to potential buyers.
CPaaS allows teachers to connect with parents and students without having to give out their personal phone numbers, email addresses, or other contact information.
Teachers can distribute handouts and homework, send forms and updates to parents/guardians, schedule parent-teacher conferences, or even text message students to provide quick clarifications when needed.
CPaaS can also be used to offer virtual campus tours, access course catalogs, and even update students and parents about weather-related school closings or other on-campus emergencies.
Additionally, the tool can be used to contact donors and alumni, making it easy to give back on a recurring schedule or with the click of a button.
How To Choose A CPaaS Provider
When choosing a CPaaS vendor, you’ll need to consider:
- Overall API selection
- The quality of the user and development community
- Network infrastructure and reliability
- Supported programming languages
- Security measures and data privacy policies
- Pricing structure
Evaluate the API Selection
Conduct market research and review current communications metrics to understand the kinds of APIs you’ll need both now and in the future.
Ensure any provider you’re considering has a robust selection of APIs and SDKs, and that they integrate with any systems or third-party software you plan to continue using. (The above “Key CPaaS Functions” section offers specifics on essential APIs.)
When reviewing available APIs, make sure to review how intuitive the installation and programming process is – especially if you don’t plan on working with an IT team. Check documentation, available tutorials, and comments from other developers to get an accurate read on API quality and the complexity of the setup process.
Scalability and customization are two of the top CPaaS benefits – so choose a provider that lets you take full advantage of both.
Look For A Thriving Developer Community
Any CPaaS solution is only as strong as its developer community.
The user and development community is where you’ll:
- Request new features
- Offer API feedback
- Access code samples and scripts
- Review installation guides, support wikis, and other tutorials
- Participate in moderated developer forums
- Participate in user and developer Slack channels
An active developer community means you’ll be able to solve issues on your own and you’ll always have access to new or frequently updated APIs.
Check Network Infrastructure
When reviewing a CPaaS tool’s network infrastructure, look for:
- An SLA guaranteed uptime of at least 99.9%
- 24/7 network monitoring and support
- A service status page
- Carrier network partnerships
- Multiple global data centers for network redundancy
Review Supported Programming Languages
Whether you’re implementing the code yourself or having your IT team do it, ensure the tool you choose supports your desired programming languages.
Common coding languages include:
Ensure The Platform Is Secure and Compliant
Data leaks can mean disaster for your company’s reputation – not to mention open you up to heavy regulatory fees and lawsuits.
When evaluating network security, look for providers offering:
- End-to-end encryption (E2EE)
- Third-party security certifications (SOC II Level 2, ISO 27001, etc.)
- Fraud prevention plans to mitigate DDOS attacks
- User verification through two-factor authentication (2FA)
You’ll also need to be sure the provider is compliant with any industry regulatory standards you must meet, such as HIPAA, GDPR, PCI, and TCPA.
Review Available Pricing Structures
Flexible pricing models are one of the biggest advantages of CPaaS.
Consider if you’ll benefit more from a pay-as-you-go model or a bulk/committed use discount (the former is more popular.)
Most platforms offer both pay per-minute (per-text, per-authentication, etc.) and interval-based pricing options.
Top CPaaS Providers
Whether you’re ready to implement a CPaaS platform now, or if you just want to know what to look for in the future, the below platforms are considered the best CPaaS providers.
|Provider||Available Communication APIs||Tool/Feature-Based APIs||Best For|
|Twilio||-Messaging APIs: WhatsApp, SMS, MMS, In-App Chat, Web Chat, Unified Conversations API, SendGrid Email API
– Voice Calling APIs: Elastic SIP Trunking, Programmable Voice, Local and Toll-Free Calling
– Programmable Video API
|– SIM Management
– Twilio Segment API
– SendGrid Marketing Campaigns
– Twilio for Salesforce
– Twilio Studio
– Autopilot AI-powered bots
– Task Router
– Multichannel Notification
– Authy and Verify APIs
|Teams that need a CPaaS platform that lets them design a highly customizable app from the ground up, and teams that want pay-as-you-go and volume discount pricing options|
|Bandwidth||– Messaging APIs: SMS, MMS, Group Messaging, SMS Short Codes, Toll-Free SMS, SMS Surveys
– Voice APIs: Call Routing, IVR, Call Recording and Transcription, Click-to-Call, Audio Conferencing, Answering Machine Detection
– Video Calling APIs
– Emergency Calling APIs
|– Two-Factor Authentication
– Single-Use Passwords
– Phone Number Verification
– WebRTC calling
|Enterprise-level businesses primarily focused on adding or optimizing voice and SMS communication with customers, rarely use third-party communication platforms|
|Avaya OneCloud||– Messaging APIs: Two-way SMS, Message Automation, MMS, Bulk Messaging, Custom Sender ID, Automatic Long Text Splitting, Poll/Survey Messaging
– Phone Number APIs: Dedicated and Shared Short Codes, Toll-Free and Local Numbers, Global API-Enabled Provisioning
– SIP Registration
– Global Phone Numbers (40+ countries)
– Voice Conferencing
– Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
– AI-Enabled Conversations
– Call Tracking
|– BNA, CNAM, and Worldwide Carrier Lookups
– Automatic Speech Recognition
– Call Analytics
– Voice Transcription and Voice Effects
– REST API
|Teams that need advanced API capabilities, teams with an in-house development team that works across multiple coding languages|
|Kaleyra||– Messaging APIs: SMS, MMS, RCS APIs, WhatsApp, Email
– Voice APIs: Voiced Calling, IVR, Click-to Call, Routing, Call Recording, Call Masking
– Video API
|– Number Verification
– Push Notifications
– Phone Number Lookup
– Verified Calls and Verified SMS
– Direct Carrier Billing
– Campaign Management
|Enterprise-level teams needing a CPasS platform offering many third-party integrations and a cross-channel drag-and-drop flowbuilder|
|Plivo||– SMS texting API from local, international, and toll-free numbers
– MMS API with intelligent picture resizing, multimedia formats, multimedia storage, and multiple sender types
– Zentrunk Cloud-Based SIP Trunking
– Voice Calling, Voicemail, Call Forwarding, Cloud IVR, Voice Survey, Voice Alerts
|– SMS-Based Two-Factor Authentication
– Automated SMS Notifications/Reminders
– SMS Surveys and Marketing
– SMS Auto Responses
– SMS Shortcodes
|Teams that primarily communicate with customers via real-time and automated SMS and MMS texting|
|MessageBird||– Messaging APIs: Local SMS, Dedicated SMS Number or Short Code, WhatsApp Messaging, Instagram Messaging, Viber, WeChat, Twitter Messaging, Telegram Messaging, Facebook Messenger, Email
– Voice Calling APIs: Voice Numbers in 50+ countries, Voice Recording, Text-To-Speech, Answering Machine Detection
|– Multi-Factor Authentication via SMS, Voice, WhatsApp, Email
– Customer Support API
– Marketing API
– Pusher Real-time notification APIs
|Teams that communicate with customers over numerous (7 and up) communication channels|
|Vonage||– Messaging APIs: SMS, MMS, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, In-App Messaging, Email
– Programmable Phone Number APIS: 10 DLC, Dedicated Short Codes, Local Numbers
Voice Calling APIs: SIP Trunking, Voice Calling, In-App Voice Calling
– In-App Live and Interactive Video API
|– Verify API
– Number Insight API
– Account Audit API
– Advanced Insights API
– Reporting API
– Subaccounts API
|Teams that need communication APIs focused on social media and in-app communication|
Though CPaaS tools offer highly customizable, scalable business communications, businesses with more standard communication needs may want to opt for a unified communications system instead.
Below, we’ve answered some of the top CPaaS FAQs
Key points to consider when choosing a CPaaS solution include:
- A wide variety of communication, reporting, management, and authentication APIS
- A thriving user and development community
- Platform’s network infrastructure (guaranteed uptime, data center location, network coverage, partner carrier networks, etc.)
- Compatibility with preferred programming languages
Most CPaaS users will need at least some developer experience to get the most out of the platform, particularly basic coding skills (which is why most businesses using CPaaS either have an in-house development/IT team or have the necessary skills on hand already.)
However, CPaaS platforms with a strong user development community may make coding and API integration more accessible by providing step-by-step written/video tutorials and assistance from developer forums.
The main difference between CPaaS and UCaaS is that CPaaS lets users customize and individually add features/functions to existing applications a la carte, while UCaaS offers businesses a unified communications interface developed and run entirely by the provider.