AWS Unveils Chime Conferencing Service

Amazon Web Services on Tuesday introduced Amazon Chime, a cloud-based unified communications offering that lets users engage in high-quality audio and HD video meetings across Windows and Mac desktops, and iOS and Android mobile devices.

Companies just have to download the app; they don’t need to make upfront investments in hardware or software.

Users can switch seamlessly between desktop and mobile apps as needed, even in mid-conference.

User-Friendly Disruption

Participants click a button on the Chime app to join a meeting instead of dialing a number then entering a PIN.

A visual roster shows all attendees. Any attendee can mute any other, and muted attendees can unmute themselves.

Meetings can be restricted. All communications are encrypted, and a meeting’s chat history is never stored on the devices used.

Chat rooms are provided for ongoing collaboration outside of meetings, where chat histories and files are saved securely.

“I’m really surprised someone didn’t do this sooner,” remarked Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

“The current tools are pretty annoying … and particularly unreliable,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

“This will disrupt the segment, leaving no player unaffected and putting them all on notice that they’d either better invest in improving the usability of their products or exit,” Enderle warned.

“Device syncing and high-quality audio and video are rapidly becoming table stakes,” observed Michael Brandenburg, an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Amazon Chime is “really on feature parity with the other conferencing on the market today,” he told the E-Commerce Times, noting that Amazon is bringing its “ability to scale and a feature-rich conferencing solution at aggressive price points.”

Chime Pricing

There are three pricing tiers for Chime:

  • Basic – The free version lets users attend online meetings, call another person over voice or video, and use Chime’s messaging and chat services;
  • The Plus Edition, at US$2.50 per user per month, adds the ability to manage an email domain, configure Active Directory, and integrate with identity management systems. It stores 1 GB of messages per user;
  • Chime Pro, which costs $15 per user per month, adds the ability to host meetings with up to 100 participants with screen sharing and video. It supports mobile, laptop and in-room video, and includes unlimited VoIP support.

Basic and Plus users can join conferences set up in Chime Pro.

Companies can mix and match licenses to keep down costs. There are no minimum fees. Charges are usage-based, and users can cancel or change subscriptions at any time.

Interested users can sign up for a free trial of Amazon Pro. After 30 days, they can continue to use the Basic level for free or subscribe to a paid tier.

Chime will be available in the second quarter from AWS partners Level 3 Communications and Vonage, which will offer its business customers Amazon Chime Pro at no charge.

Chime’s Sweet and Sour Notes

The Amazon Chime service is “vastly easier than virtually all mainstream offerings and well priced, given the feature set,” noted Enderle. Still, “it’s new and not yet fully load-tested, suggesting that until it reaches some level of critical mass, problems won’t be known and can’t be addressed.”

Many companies already have begun transitioning from on-premises conferencing solutions to the cloud, Frost’s Brandenburg remarked. However,”their existing conferencing contracts and investments into those ecosystems will likely be more of a factor than pure costs alone.”

Chime’s focus on usability and convenience “is the critical factor for broad adoption of unified communication solutions,” said Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

However, “infrastructure buyers — the typical Amazon customers — are a few steps removed from the business drivers driving demand for collaboration tools,” she told the E-Commerce Times.

Chime will heighten competition in the unified communications and collaboration market, which may reach $96 billion by 2023, based on Global Market Insights’ projections.

Amazon Chime “will drive innovation up and prices down,” Wettemann said. The obvious targets are Microsoft Skype for business and Google Hangouts, “although many smaller players are likely to be impacted.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2008. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, mobile technologies, CRM, databases, software development, mainframe and mid-range computing, and application development. He has written and edited for numerous publications, including Information Week and Computerworld. He is the author of two books on client/server technology. Email Richard.

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