Difference between Unified Communications (UC) and VoIP

The terms unified communications and VoIP are interrelated and often used together in the context of telephone systems. VoIP is a technology, whereas unified communications is a solution that uses VoIP technology.

Unified Communications or UC is an umbrella terminology that refers to a telecom solution that combines several individual communication services into one. VoIP, or Voice over IP, is a technology that primarily enables voice and video calling in UC, but the broader application of VoIP is not limited to UC.

VoIP enables voice and video calls in Unified Communications

Unified Communications (UC) is a telecommunication solution that combines multiple individual communication services, including traditional voice calls, online audio and video calls, instant messaging, SMS (text messages), voicemail, emails, electronic fax, call recording, online collaboration and various other services into a single account.

VoIP or Voice over IP (Internet Protocol) is a technology that enables voice and video calling services over the internet. VoIP is one of the key technologies used in UC solutions to facilitate local and international calls at a low cost. The application of VoIP is not limited to UC, but it can be used by any telecom service, including 4G and 5G mobile networks where voice calls and SMS take place over the packet-switched data network.

Combing multiple telecom services to create a unified communication solution requires the integration of various technologies through specialised platforms and application servers. One of the most fundamental steps in unified communication is the integration of telephony with the IP network and web applications so that traditional calling services can be accessed via apps and web browsers.

Unified Communications (UC) is primarily a business-to-business (B2B) service where customers can be small, medium and large businesses. The service providers that offer UC solutions to these business customers are telecom operators who either own a telecom network (mobile and/or fixed) or work in partnership with telecom operators.

Another inter-related term often used in unified communications is UCaaS or Unified Communications as a Service. UCaaS is a business model where the service provider owns and manages all the network hardware and software. The customer pays a monthly fee for the number of users or “seats” they buy from the service provider. In today’s world, the UCaaS business model is more of a given, and you will likely encounter the word “cloud” when looking for this type of solution.

Unified Communications solutions include many communication services including voice and video that can be enabled by VoIP
— Unified Communications (UC) solutions include many communication services including voice and video calling that can be enabled by VoIP—

Why is VoIP used by Unified Communications (UC) solutions?

The landline telephone system has historically been one of the most conventional and effective ways of communicating with a business. Since Unified Communications solutions are designed for businesses, it is only natural that they include landline telephony.

The landline networks, also known as PSTN networks (Public Switched Telephone Networks), have been using the VoIP (Voice over IP) technology for making and receiving telephone calls for many years. In contrast to traditional landline systems that use dedicated circuits, VoIP is a packet-switched technology that sends and receives voice traffic in the form of data bursts.

As a technology, VoIP can be offered as an OTT (Over The Top) or a managed VoIP service. The former is where Quality of Service (QoS), e.g. latency, bandwidth etc., cannot be guaranteed, whereas the latter is where the VoIP network ensures that these parameters meet the required QoS specifications.

In both cases, VoIP is offered over the data network, including the internet. An example of OTT is when you make a voice or video call over Facebook Messenger using your home internet. An example of managed VoIP is when your home broadband provider allows you to use their telephone service by connecting a landline telephone to the broadband router.

The legacy PBX telephone systems (Private Branch Exchange) for business customers relied on circuit-switched TDM (Time Division Multiplexing) for facilitating voice calls. Unified Communications is the evolution of these legacy systems and is based on VoIP. Since VoIP systems use the internet for voice calls instead of traditional circuits, VoIP calls are approximately 50% cheaper than traditional calls.

While cost-saving is one of the reasons for using VoIP in UC solutions, it also makes the integration with web applications easier. This is because the IP infrastructure employed by VoIP works well with web and mobile applications, allowing service providers to offer voice and video calling services through mobile apps and web browsers.

SIP or Session Initiation Protocol is one of the most widely deployed protocols for enabling VoIP technology. The SIP infrastructure is responsible for IP-based voice and video calls. It can also integrate with WebRTC, making it possible to facilitate calls using web browsers and mobile apps (Android and iOS).

Through the inter-working of SIP and WebRTC infrastructure in the network, a telecom service provider can offer IP-based voice and video calls that customers can access using various devices, including laptops, mobile phones, tablets and IP telephones.

What is included in a Unified Communications (UC) Solution?

Unified Communications (UC) aims to provide a consistent communication experience to customers across all customer endpoints, including mobile phones, fixed phones, or just apps that customers may be using. However, bringing these different experiences together requires various communication systems and user applications to work well with each other.

UC solution vendors connect customers to their purpose-built platforms to enable them to manage all communication and collaboration in a unified way. Examples of the services that UC systems enable are mobile and landline phone calls, audio and video conferencing, instant messaging, text messages (SMS), voicemail, email, call centre solutions, electronic fax services, Fixed and Mobile Convergence (FMC), CRM integration, call recording, native dialling through mobile phones and so on.

Fixed-Mobile Convergence or FMC is one of the main features of UC that allows both mobile and fixed phone numbers of a particular customer to be linked to the same customer account. It gives additional flexibility to customers and helps them avoid missing important calls.

The above services or features can be assigned to individual employees based on their account type. The customer account types in Unified Comms (UC) may differ depending on the solution vendor, but they generally consist of user and admin accounts.

For example, all the employees within a business customer will have individual user accounts. In addition, there may be admin accounts managed by the business customer’s IT department. Finally, depending on the size of the business customer, there may also be admin accounts at company and department levels.

Each employee account in unified communications is referred to as a “Seat”, so if a small business customer has five (5) employees, it can buy five (5) seats from a UC service provider to allow all five (5) employees to benefit from the UC services.

As a B2B solution, UC customers generally consist of three main segments: SoHo (Small Office Home Office), SMB (Small and Medium Business) and large Enterprise customers. The UC needs for business customers vary considerably depending on how small or large they are.

Therefore, UC solutions are designed to target specific customer segments and persona types. UC solutions can also vary depending on the industry in which the businesses operate. For example, a plumbing company with two people will have very different UC needs than an IT consulting company with 50 people.

Are VoLTE, VoWi-Fi and VoNR included in UC?

Since Unified Communications can work with both fixed and mobile communications systems, the IP-calling capabilities natively available in cellular networks are also technically available to UC solutions. In mobile cellular networks, Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Voice over NR (VoNR) deliver IP-based voice calls and SMS services in 4G LTE and 5G NR networks.

In addition, Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi) is also available in 4G LTE networks for voice calls. Even though these technologies are based on VoIP, they are managed by the mobile network directly to ensure Quality of Service. Therefore, VoLTE, VoNR, and VoWi-Fi are managed-VoIP technologies.

It is possible for a Unified Communications solution to integrate with the mobile network and achieve fixed-mobile convergence. Depending on the business model of the UC service provider, they may decide to utilise cellular voice (VoLTE, VoNR, VoWi-Fi or 2G/3G voice) to ensure high-quality voice calls.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.

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