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Amazon Enters the Ring with Chime

The Wainhouse Research Blog

News & Views
on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Amazon Enters the Ring with Chime

By: -
15 Feb 2017

Yesterday Amazon announced Amazon Chime, and with it Amazon enters squarely into the collaboration services market.  Chime provides audio, video, and web conferencing along with persistent chat messaging.  The offering, which is hosted on Amazon Web Services, joins Amazon’s growing portfolio of “Business Productivity” Apps that includes WorkMail, WorkDocs, WorkSpaces, and AppStream.  Chime will be sold both direct and through partners – the first of which are Level3 and Vonage.

What is Amazon Chime?

Chime consists of online meetings, text messaging, and enterprise administration.

Chime meetings include the requisite PSTN/VoIP audio, screen & app sharing, HD video conferencing, and recording.  Unique audio conferencing features include proprietary wideband VoIP audio technology, automatic call-out to participants at the start of scheduled a meeting, and very inexpensive PSTN dial-in rates.  Client apps are available for the PC, Mac, Android, and iOS; attendees that do not have an installed client can join a meeting by dialing-in and viewing shared content using a web browser.  Standards-based conference room systems can also join a meeting by calling the Chime meeting gateway and entering the meeting ID.

Chime’s text messaging works transparently across organizations.  Any user can invite others to create an account for free and, once verified, they can be added to a contact list.  Individual presence can be set automatically or manually.  Chats can include text, emoji, @mentions of people, and files. Chat rooms, which are usually centered around topics or tasks (some would call them “spaces”), can be created and remain persistent until deleted by the creator.  Any 1:1 or group chat session can be escalated to a conference with one click.

Enterprise administration features include the ability to sync Chime’s services with Active Directory, user management and reports, AWS security and scalability, and global support.

Chime pricing starts with a free offering with two optional pricing tiers.  The free offering supports 1:1 VoIP / video calls, text chat, and chat rooms (with a 30-day message history).  A “Plus” level, $2.50 per user per month (PUPM), adds screen sharing / remote control, the Enterprise features, and increases persistent storage to 1GB / user. The “Pro” level, $15 PUPM, adds the ability to host calls with up to 100 participants, PSTN call-in, a personal meeting URL, scheduling, recording, and support for conference room video systems.  All new Chime accounts are provisioned at the “Pro” level for the first 30 days.

Initial Impressions

This was not an unexpected announcement to us.  Amazon quietly acquired online meeting startup Biba sometime in the past year or two (exact timing unclear), so it was just a matter of when.  In some ways, this announcement is “Biba 3.0” – the “Amazon-ation” of Biba, with some tweaks and iterative features.  This is not to downplay the result as the Amazon-ation of virtually anything brings with it brand clout and AWS scale potential.  For example: the PSTN dial-in rates and availability (0.3 cents per minute toll-rate in the USA; PSTN calling available in 70 countries) are disruptive.  Talk about clout and scale.

All-in-all, Amazon Chime has the fundamentals in place to compete – for an initial offering. It is the particular combination of capabilities that is the story here, rather than any one exceptional area stealing the show.  More examples worth noting: the ability to interop with standards-based (H.323) video conferencing systems appeals to large enterprise IT, but Chime stops short of providing (say) Skype for Business interop.  Persistent text messaging also is appealing, but stops short of providing content search and base-level integration with file sharing services.  Again, the point here is not to knock Chime, but to emphasize that it is the combination of these features that’s the draw – though most of the above features are only available with the $15 PUPM “Pro” level package.

What would I like to be tweaked?  I see the “Free” offering as a way for invitees of those with a paid plan to participate in text messaging and meetings.  But, without screen sharing, it will not nurture stand-alone meetings between two “Free” users.  Similarly, the $2.50 PUPM “Plus” level should include meetings with up to three participants (and, if included, increase the price to $5 PUPM if necessary).

Our initial hands-on experience is generally positive.  Chime meetings perform well and the feature set work as advertised.  More details are available in our newly-minted From The Lab report which we are making available for free to registered users of the WR content portal.

That said, Chime is worthy as a first offering for basic meetings and messaging from a very worthy competitor.  Now if they would just include "Pro" with my Amazon Prime subscription ...

Putting Amazon Chime through its paces at WR