Amazon Chime goes after WebEx, Skype for Business and more

The cloud provider just entered the unified communications business

Companies looking for a new video- and teleconferencing system have a fresh face to turn to in the market: Amazon Web Services.

On Monday, the public cloud provider announced the launch of Amazon Chime, a new service that’s designed to compete with the likes of WebEx, Skype for Business and GoToMeeting. It’s a powerful swing at some very entrenched enterprise software players by the public cloud provider.

AWS launched the service with native applications for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android. Chime’s infrastructure is based in the U.S., but Gene Farrell, AWS’s vice president of enterprise applications, said that the service can be accessed worldwide.

One of Chime’s interesting features is a visual roster of meeting participants that includes information about any people who have distracting background noise interrupting the call. In a meeting without a moderator, any user can choose to mute one of their fellow participants so that the rest on the call don’t have to listen to a barking dog or the sound of typing.

People who get muted in that way will get notified that their mic has been blocked, and can choose to unmute themselves whenever they want to.

In addition, users can call into a Chime conference call using a regular phone number, in the event they can’t access the service’s app for one reason or another. In the future, Farrell said that AWS also plans to add support for person to person calls over a traditional telephone network.

Chime is part of AWS’s portfolio of applications focused on helping business users with their work. That set of services started with the company’s WorkSpaces cloud virtual desktop as a service offering, and now includes AWS’s WorkDocs office suite, WorkMail email service and QuickSight business intelligence service.

The service will be available in three pricing tiers. Basic offers users one-on-one voice and video calls, plus group chat capabilities. Plus costs US$2.50 per user per month, and adds support for screen sharing and integration with identity management systems through SAML and Active Directory.

Pro costs $15 per user per month, and lets users do all of the above, plus host meetings with up to 100 participants. Users at the other two pricing tiers can join conferences set up by Pro users, so companies can mix and match licenses to minimize Chime’s cost.

Amazon offers a free trial of all the Pro features for 30 days. After that expires, customers can choose to keep using the Basic tier, or pay for more advanced functionality. Farrell said that Chime could reduce a company’s unified communications bill by up to 70 percent.

Companies with existing in-room conferencing systems made by companies like Polycom and Crestron will be able to set those devices up to integrate with Chime.

To help with adoption, AWS is working with Level 3 Communications and Vonage. Level 3 will market Chime to its enterprise customers, while Vonage will work with small businesses. Both offerings will be available in the second quarter of this year.

Amazon has already been testing Chime with a handful of customers, including fashion retailer Brooks Brothers. The company, which was founded in 1818, has rolled out Chime to 90 percent of its corporate staff.

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