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What Is CPaaS? Communication Platform as a Service Explained

Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS) is a cloud-based delivery model that lets you add voice, video, and messaging features to your existing business software using APIs.

CPaaS allows you to cherry-pick real-time communications features and embed them into your apps and services. It’s attractive to growing companies who already use a cloud-based technology stack and want to customize their communications infrastructure.

Side note: The CPaaS acronym sounds way more intimidating than it is. CPaaS is simply a voice and messaging API. “As-a-service” is a business model that became dominant as part of digital transformation.

Unlike a virtual phone system, these functions need to be coded from scratch. In other words: CPaaS brings powerful advantages, but it comes with a cost.

In this guide, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about CPaaS to scale your voice and messaging.

What is CPaaS?

CPaaS is an acronym for Communications Platform as a Service. It describes cloud solutions that enable businesses to add real-time communication features to their own business applications.

With CPaaS, you can fully customize your communication stack. Instead of buying complete solutions with predefined features, you can integrate selected communication channels with the software you already use.

CPaaS integration diagram

CPaaS functions you can choose to add to your communications stack include:

With these, you can let your employees communicate with each other and with customers on a platform and device they want.

What is a CPaaS provider?

A CPaaS provider offers application programming interfaces (APIs), code snippets, and applications you can use to add real-time communications features and channels to your ecosystem.

They’re essentially API platforms. They let you choose from a range of APIs including voice, SMS, team messaging, fax, and more. You can use product documentation, software development kits (SDKs), and support from the CPaaS service provider to make the most of these APIs.

CPaaS providers like Twilio continue to add APIs to their platform.

What is the difference between CPaaS and UCaaS?

Wondering how is CPaaS stands out from Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS)? They seem similar because they both give businesses access to a feature-rich communications stack. However, how they deliver business communications is quite different. Let’s look under the hood of each.

CPaaS is a set of communications APIs that let businesses and developers integrate features like telephony and messaging into software. CPaaS basically lets you turn devices and apps into communication tools.

CPaaS lets you pick and choose specific APIs to add to your current communications stack without building a brand new backend.

UCaaS, on the other hand, gives you a one-stop platform with built-in communication functionalities. With UCaaS, you get instant access to a platform with phone services, video meetings, usage reporting, calling features like call recording, and more.

UCaaS is a single environment ready to be used right out of the box.

Think of the difference this way: CPaaS gives you a blank canvas you can paint however you want, while UCaaS gets you a complete painting.

How does CPaaS work?

At its core, CPaaS works thanks to communication APIs.

And Application Programming Interface (API) is a sets of functions that act as intermediaries between two endpoints, such as devices or software apps. They allow these endpoints to interact effectively with each other.

APIs usually rely on Voice over IP (VoIP) networks in the backend to get data packets from one endpoint to another.

Examples of actions that trigger these interactions are:

  • Dialing a phone number and making a phone call
  • Sending a text message
  • Requesting an updated status of a package you’re waiting for

So to use CPaaS, you need developers with the experience of developing custom applications that use APIs. You also need devices and/or software that knows how to interact with API endpoints.

Your CPaaS solution should help you fulfill your cloud communications needs by offering:

  • Extensive product documentation
  • Code samples
  • Code libraries for different desktop and mobile platforms
  • Software Development Kits (SDKs)
  • Example use cases
  • Customer support

Ideally, you’ll see real-life examples, samples of code, workflow examples and descriptions, and a demo of the communication channel you’re looking to implement.

Key functions of Communications Platform as a Service (CPaaS)

Below are the building blocks you can use as you implement CPaaS into your communication setup.

CPaaS platforms consist of one or more voice, SMS, fax, online meeting, team messaging, and analytics APIs to add features to business software.

Outbound voice calls

You can take advantage of voice API and embed outgoing calling to your communications stack. It’s great for scaling up and down based on your needs, and you can get new phone numbers and calling features almost instantly.

Voice API for outgoing calls is ideal when you need to adapt quickly to a changing environment and increase or decrease your calling capacity.

Inbound call routing

Make your incoming call processing easy with call routing. It works through webhooks. As a call comes in, a webhook is triggered, and the system follows a set of instructions on what to do with the call. In contrast, inbound call center platforms provide all this without any programming.

These instructions can be to route the call to a certain recipient so you can customize and streamline how you handle incoming calls—extra helpful in busy seasons.

WebRTC-based calling

WebRTC is a free, open framework for the web that enables real-time communication (RTC) in web browsers and mobile apps using APIs.

Some CPaaS providers offer a WebRTC solution as part of their services. With it, you can embed voice and video communications into your communications setup. That way, you can add features like conferencing, recording, encryption, call queues, and more.

Text messaging (SMS)

You can build SMS communication into your software so you can send notifications, alerts, and more, all from your business number.

If you need to, you can also build two-way messaging into your setup, making it easy for your customers to respond to you. SMS API also allows you to send group text messages, automate workflows, and see whether each message was delivered and opened.

On-demand SIP trunking

SIP trunking gives connectivity to your IP-based communications infrastructure. If your need for call capacity changes, on-demand SIP trunking is flexible and makes it easy to increase or decrease capacity as your needs change.

Features and functionalities you’ll get with SIP trunking will depend on the CPaaS provider you choose.

Multimedia and video messaging

SMS API also supports sending and receiving images, videos, and many other media and file formats.

Not all CPaaS providers offer MMS as part of their solution. Those that do often differ in their offers for international numbers sending and receiving MMS messages, media storage options, file conversion, and file size.

Social media messaging like WhatsApp

Apps like WhatsApp are great for customer engagement. They’re seamless and ubiquitous.

You can use them for rich communication experiences. In a way, WhatsApp can unite many other CPaaS functions. For example, you can use it to send and receive multimedia messages and files, share locations, and see if your message was delivered and read.

You can also automate and scale your recurring customer support efforts.

Number masking

Phone number masking enables you to connect two parties, such as an agent and a customer, without revealing their phone numbers.

Number masking is a great way to protect your customers’ identity, safeguard sensitive information, and ensure everyone’s safety and privacy.

When a user calls a virtual phone number and number masking is applied, only the CPaaS platform has access to the phone numbers of call participants.

CPaaS use cases and examples

CPaaS helps businesses take an omnichannel approach to their communications. By doing that, they can efficiently communicate internally and create a seamless customer experience.

Here are some ways you could implement the core functions of CPaaS into your business.

1. Appointment confirmations and fulfillment updates

CPaaS is great for messages such as appointment confirmations and reminders, order confirmations, and delivery tracking information.

Implementing these messages can bring many benefits. They can reduce missed appointments, improve customer communication and satisfaction, and remove the need for manually sending reminders and updates.

With this process in place, you’ll enable your contact center employees to focus on bringing new sales instead of dealing with customer support calls.

Confirmation and update messages work great for healthcare, food delivery, e-commerce, and any industry that relies on a subscription model and recurring payments.

2. Fraud and abuse mitigation

With CPaaS, you can add an extra layer of security for your customers. You can do this with text messages to send your customers:

  • One-time passwords (OTP) to verify user identity
  • Two-factor authentication codes to verify logins
  • Secure mobile payment information

This use case works for any industry where customers have accounts with their personal data and/or make online payments. Online shopping, consumer and business software tools, and personal banking are just a few examples.

3. Privacy-focused messaging

CPaaS allows businesses to share sensitive messages and communicate privately with their customers.

Information like credit card delivery notifications, policy renewals, and claim updates should always be safe and give the customers peace of mind. With CPaaS, this can be both secure and frictionless.

CPaaS for security purposes is ideal for industries such as banking, healthcare, insurance, asset management, and others that handle sensitive information regularly.

4. Scalable voice and messaging

You can use CPaaS to add voice calling and messaging to your customer-facing applications. This will make it easy for them to contact you at key moments in their purchase journey.

For example, your customers can contact you when they’re:

  • Buying products or services
  • Planning to visit one of your physical locations
  • Checking their account or purchase history on your website or in-app

All of these are crucial moments that impact the customer experience. CPaaS lets you deploy voice calls and messaging at scale so you can be at your customers’ fingertips in no time.

This works well for the travel industry, financial services, and other industries where customers can greatly benefit from getting your immediate assistance.

5. Automated customer interactions

Another way you can take advantage of CPaaS is through chatbots and other automated customer engagement. This helps your customers get the answer they need in a self-service manner.

Chatbots use conversational artificial intelligence (AI) to answer questions correctly based on customer information, questions they asked, and previous interactions.

By bringing these automated customer interactions to the same communications platform as all other interactions, you can also provide your sales and customer support teams with key information. That way, they’ll be prepared for all one-on-one customer interactions despite automating previous ones.

Any industry that deals with recurring customer questions can use automation through chatbots, WhatsApp, and other messaging services.

Alternatives to CPaaS

CPaaS gives businesses the flexibility to tailor their communications stack to their specific needs. Many of them, most often tech startups, have to go for one of the three main options: build, buy, or partner.

CPaaS can be a very costly and time-consuming effort to implement, so make sure you know the CPaaS alternatives available to you:

  1. UCaaS platform with robust features. These are cloud-based communication and collaboration apps. Solutions include VoIP, audio and video conferencing, and instant messaging.
  2. CCaaS platform for on-demand call centers. Call Center as a Platform lets you scale your call center without hiring internal IT support or paying for technology you don’t need.
  3. Unmetered SIP trunks on top of your existing PBX infrastructure. Connect your on-premise PBX equipment to the internet and leverage the benefits of VoIP.
  4. Virtual team workspaces. They offer ready-made team communications and foster collaboration without custom-building your communication stack.

The option you’ll choose depends on the timing, pricing, and your in-house technical skills.

Choose your ideal communication setup

CPaaS solutions are impressive, scalable, and powerful. No one can deny that. They can give you exceptional connectivity internally, and they can level up your customer’s user experience.

But they also require experienced software developers to make CPaaS work for you. With those skills in-house, you can build a fully customized voice and messaging infrastructure from scratch. Already have API developers with VoIP experience? Go for it.

For the rest of us, ready-made unified communications solutions are a better way to go.

If you need a way to take your communications to the cloud, you’ll love the virtual phone system route. It lets you bring all important conversations to one place, from customer support tools to a CRM and more—without coding.

Need suggestions for your communication challenges and needs? Let our VoIP experts know and they’ll guide you through your best solutions.

About the author

Cameron Johnson is a market segment leader at Nextiva. Along with his articles on Nextiva's blog, Cameron has written for a variety of publications including Inc. and Business.com. Cameron was recently recognized as Utah's Marketer of the Year.