Amazon releases Chime, a new cloud-based UCaaS

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Amazon today announced Chime, a unified communications as a service (UCaaS) offering hosted in Amazon Web Service’s cloud.

Amazon is entering a crowded market of UC solutions, some of which are already cloud-based and others that run on customer premises. Nevertheless, analysts who track Amazon say the company has an opportunity here.

Chime uses a mobile or desktop application that is available across iOS, Android and Windows environments. It uses noise-cancelling wideband audio, which Amazon says allows it to deliver high quality audio and video experiences. When a meeting starts, Chime calls all the participants, who can join by clicking a button; there is no PIN required. Chime shows a visual roster of all attendees, which Amazon says eliminates the “who just joined” questions that can occur on conference calls. Any user has the ability to mute a noisy participant. Advanced editions of Chime allow IT to centrally manage users and settings, including integrating it with existing corporate directories.

Chime’s pay-as-you-go licensing model is based on how much it is used in an organization. Many other UCaaS offerings require licensing contracts and seats. A Basic edition of Chime is free and allows users to attend meetings and make video and voice calls. A Plus edition is $2.50 per user per month and adds some user management features, such as linking Chime to an Active Directory and retaining up to 1GB of message history per user. A Pro Plan allows screen sharing for up to 100 users and includes unlimited Voice over IP (VoIP) for $15 per user per month. There is also a rate per minute for conference call dial ins, which in the U.S. is $0.003 or $0.012 for toll-free.

Anyone can download and use Chime, but Amazon partners Level 3 and Vonage will offer supported versions of it when it is generally released in the second quarter. In a press release announcing Chime, Amazon cited the retailer Brooks Brothers which deployed the offering in a pilot before its release. Internal adoption reached 90% of the company’s corporate staff without any formal rollout or training, IT director Phillip Miller said.

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The UC market is fragmented into two major buckets: on-premises platforms, which have been the traditional deployment method and remain the most common. Cisco Unified Communications Manager (Unified CM), Avaya Aura platform and the Mitel MiCollab are some of the big vendors.

In recent years with the advent of cloud computing, the UCaaS market has evolved. Vendors like Cisco with WebEx, GoTo Meeting, Intercall and PGI offer cloud and application-based platforms in which organizations don’t have to install hardware and software packages to run UC systems.

“It’s a market that’s continually in transition,” says Bern Elliot, distinguished analyst at Gartner who tracks the UC industry. Gartner estimates the cloud-based UC market was $12 billion in 2016, growing at 15% to $22 billion in 2020.

But Elliot says Amazon’s entrance into the UCaaS market should also be viewed in a larger context. In the broader cloud market, two of Amazon’s biggest competitors are Microsoft and Google, both of whom have strong offerings across not only infrastructure as a service, but enterprise applications as well. Microsoft has Office 365 and Google has its G Suite of work apps. In the UC space, Microsoft has Skype for Business and Google has Hangouts. Amazon before Chime did not have a competing UC offering.

Chime is the latest in a series of enterprise applications offerings rolled out by Amazon in recent years. Amazon WorkDocs is a file storing and sharing service (competitive with Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive). WorkSpaces is a virtual desktop offering, and WorkMail is an email and calendaring application.

“Amazon is slowly amassing a digital workplace portfolio,” Elliot says, adding that Amazon’s enterprise application offerings aren’t nearly as well known or established as Microsoft or Google’s, yet.

“If you take the long view, which Amazon certainly does, they want to position themselves as a broader enterprise partner and be able to talk to customers not only about their infrastructure, but applications too,” Elliot explains. “Microsoft and Google can have those conversations, and Amazon would like to be able to too.”

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