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New battle lines being drawn in the enterprise-level unified communications (UC) space

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A first look as AWS goes live with Amazon Chime, a Skype for Business competitor

For some time now, online communications tools haven't just been for choppy video calls to branch offices or far-away parents. The market leader, Skype (owned by Microsoft since 2011), has pushed into the enterprise space into the last couple of years, launching Skype for Business in 2015 as a successor to its previous business communications tool, Lync.

Skype for Business, as users are aware, offers beefier conference-calling capabilities and integrates with Office (including Outlook). It costs a few bucks per month per user … and now it has a new competitor with titanic resources behind it.

Everything points to full-scale war breaking out in the enterprise-level unified communications (UC) space.

Yep, and as Cisco shapes up to place more emphasis on its own UC platform, Spark, and Fuze gains serious traction, Amazon has entered the arena with Chime, which the company calls "a modern, fully-managed communications service from AWS that makes it easy for you to communicate with people inside and outside your organization using voice, video, and chat." AWS is already competing with Azure, Microsoft's cloud platform.

Hangouts, as well as smaller companies like Blue Jeans, Dialpad, Slack, and Zoom, might also be in the crosshairs, per VentureBeat.

VentureBeat points out that this is another example of Amazon investing in software-as-a-service. In the run-up to Chime, Amazon has recently bought business-intelligence service QuickSight and e-mail/calendar service WorkMail, and with rollouts like Chime, AWS is now competing with a bunch of its own clients — Zoom, for one. Why? To provide a cost-effective, frustration-free alternative to communications software that users dislike. Per an Amazon corporate statement:

"Most meeting applications or services are hard to use, deliver bad audio and video, require constant switching between multiple tools to do everything they want, and are way too expensive," said Gene Farrell, Vice President, Enterprise Applications, AWS. "Amazon Chime delivers frustration-free meetings, allowing users to be productive from anywhere. And with no ongoing maintenance or management fees, Amazon Chime is a great choice for companies that are looking for a solution to meetings that their employees will love to use."

Like any mature, modern communications tool, Chime works seamlessly across devices, according to Amazon, and can be used "for online meetings, video conferencing, calls, chat, and to share content, both inside and outside your organization."



Third-party vendors being enlisted, too

Starting in the second quarter of 2017, Level 3 and Vonage will offer Chime to their customers as a value-added product, as well.

The Chime service runs on AWS, meaning clients don't have to install software or maintain infrastructure. As with S3 and other AWS services, Chime users are billed according to use (per user, per month).

The service is tiered, and comes in three flavors:

  • Amazon Chime Basic allows you make 1:1 voice and video calls, and to use chat and chat rooms, on all your devices
  • Amazon Chime Plus adds the ability for you to share your screen during meetings, and enables integration with your company directory
  • Amazon Chime Pro offers the full set of features for online meetings, including scheduling and hosting meetings, recording meetings, and personalized meeting URLs, for up to 100 people

As for price: The Basic tier is free, Plus costs $2.50 per user per month, and Pro is $15 per user per month.

In the rollout announcement, the company touts the audio and video quality of the service, as well as "the security that comes with a data center and network architecture built to meet the requirements of the most security-sensitive organizations."

So will it be able to duke it out with Skype et al.? At the time of writing, the ink on the announcement was barely dry, so it's too early to tell. Besides, all new software experiences growing pains.

But with the Amazon juggernaut behind it, Chime shouldn't be counted out. Consider these just the opening salvos.

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