Amazon Chime: A New UC Competitor?

On February 14, Amazon launched their new freemium-based unified communications service, Amazon Chime. Chime is the result of Amazon buying Biba in the fall of 2016. Biba, a WebRTC-powered service, was one of the earlier apps that consolidated audio, video and web conferencing into a single offering. Amazon has a record of disrupting industries, but when it comes to UC, major players like Microsoft, Cisco, and Google make it difficult for any new entrants into the UC space to stand out. Looking at the current market and digging into Chime’s service set may provide hints into whether Amazon’s leap into the UCaaS fray will pay off.

Amazon Chime Features

Per Amazon, Chime delivers “frustration-free online meetings with exceptional audio and video quality.” Going beyond VoIP and video conferencing, Chime offers virtual meetings, chat, and content sharing. Billed “per user, per month”, Chime has three different versions: Chime Basic, Chime Plus, and Chime Pro. Chime’s app is offered on iOS, Android, Windows and Mac, so chats and data will sync across devices. There are limitations, however. Chime doesn’t offer the ability to record meetings or search persistent messages, and Chime Pro costs more than Skype for Business overall. The most important missing feature is that Amazon Chime users can only call other Amazon Chime users who are signed in at the time of the call. Not exactly the most convenient.

Why Is It Different?

Chime runs as an extension of AWS, the world’s largest cloud infrastructure. Amazon hopes to leverage the growing importance of AWS to enterprises by offering Chime as an extension. This provides a hardware-free option for UC that may be enticing to new startups that can’t afford the space or upkeep. This also decreases the learning curve, so everyday integration of Chime is potentially much easier without complex infrastructures to navigate or hardware to meddle with. While AWS dominates IaaS/PaaS markets, Amazon’s previous attempts to crack the SaaS market with products like WorkSpaces, WorkDocs, and WorkMail didn’t make any significant dents. It will be interesting to see how these services integrate with the Chime app or if they will over-complicate the simple, all-in-one-app concept.

Will It Work?

Chime is a logical bridge between the PaaS/IaaS and SaaS markets for AWS, but claiming a meaningful piece of the market isn’t so simple. The free Chime Basic, and the fact that Chime Pro costs more than Skype for Business, suggests that Amazon is content with exploring for now. Additionally, Vonage intends to incorporate Chime into its business UCaaS at no additional cost, showing a focus on leveraging partnerships rather than trying to completely disrupt the market altogether. It seems that Amazon isn’t quite ready for full-fledged investment into enterprise communications, but with their cloud infrastructure prowess and strong customer satisfaction record, Chime could be a viable player in the UCaaS space.

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