Amazon Chime: Channel execs see potential, room for improvement

Channel partners said Amazon's new Chime unified communications offering has the potential to disrupt the market, but may need additional features to boost its competitive stance.

Channel partners said Amazon Chime has the potential to stir up the unified communications market, but some believe the cloud giant will need to add more features to its initial offering.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled Chime on Feb. 13, rolling out two fee-based editions along with a free version. As for the fee-based editions, Amazon Chime Plus Edition is priced at $2.50 per user, per month and offers user management features in addition to the basics of enabling users to attend meetings and make voice or video calls. Amazon Chime Pro Edition is priced at $15 per user, per month and provides additional features such as the ability to host meetings with screen sharing and video for as many as 100 participants; support for mobile, laptop and in-room video; and unlimited VoIP support, according to AWS. The latter provides the security and management tools important to enterprise customers.

AWS' UC service is thought to be based upon Biba, a company in the online meeting space Amazon purchased in 2016.

Chime's challenges

Joe Fizor, a solution engineer at Telecom Brokerage Inc., a distributor based in Chicago that focuses on unified communications as a service (UCaaS) among other technologies, said Chime, in its present form, will mostly challenge Microsoft's Skype for Business and Cisco's WebEx. He said those services target customers in the lower end of the market compared with UCaaS offerings from companies such as 8x8 and RingCentral.

Joe Fizor, solution engineer, TBIJoe Fizor

As for shortcomings vis-à-vis other UCaaS providers, Fizor said Chime users should be "able to dial in or dial out without toll charges." Currently, Amazon charges users a per-minute dial-in fee for conference calls.

"The competition in the UCaaS space [offers] unlimited minutes domestically and minimal charges for international calls," Fizor said.

He said UCaaS providers offer traditional phone service using the cloud, along with messaging and collaboration tools. In addition, Amazon Chime "would need to be a stand-alone option including dial tone [and] SIP [session initiation protocol] service" to compete in the UCaaS space, he added.

This is an interesting foray into Microsoft's backyard.
Greg Piercechief cloud officer, Concerto Cloud Services

In addition, Chime can only be used between people who have downloaded the application and have an Amazon account, Fizor said. He said Amazon also needs to open Chime so that people can access it through a webpage rather than through the application, citing Skype as an example of the former. Skype for Web lets customers use Skype directly in their browsers. He also said users shouldn't have to have an Amazon account in order to communicate with people who are trying to make meetings with them. In addition, Fizor said he would like to see integration with Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Office 365.

On the plus side, Chime's pricing provides an advantage.

"The price point they are coming in at looks very competitive," Fizor said.

Rob Bellmar, executive vice president of business operations at West Unified Communications Services, a UCaaS provider, said Amazon's history is Chime's most significant edge.

Rob Bellmar, executive vice president, business operations, West Unified Communications ServicesRob Bellmar

"Today's UC market is a very crowded space with a lot of disruptive startups, as well as established players vying for customer spend," he said. "The biggest value I see for Chime right now is being an Amazon product and the company's track record of market disruption, which will need to be watched as it evolves."

At this point, Chime seems more like a product targeted at small and medium-sized businesses than a go-to-market strategy that succeeds via advertising and inbound interest generation, Bellmar explained. He said Amazon will need to tighten its go-to-market approach to compete with the likes of Skype for Business and WebEx. And to win enterprise projects for full telecom replacement, Amazon must develop a plan to make Chime a "true telephony replacement service" for enterprise customers.

"Full telecom replacement is a lot more complex than an app, and we have seen Microsoft struggle there, too," Bellmar said.

Greg Pierce, chief cloud officer, Concerto Cloud ServicesGreg Pierce

For Greg Pierce, chief cloud officer at Concerto Cloud Services, a managed cloud provider in Tampa, Fla., the most significant aspect of Chime is what it says about Amazon's aspirations beyond providing infrastructure.

"All of the sudden, they understand that to win the hearts and minds of the CIOs and IT departments they are going to need business applications," Pierce said, noting that Chime is a step in that direction.

"This is an interesting foray into Microsoft's backyard, which has been business applications," he added.

Amazon Chime in the channel

AWS is making partnering a part of its Amazon Chime sales strategy, announcing relationships with Level 3 Communications and Vonage. Level 3 will add Amazon Chime to its UC portfolio, with availability scheduled for the second quarter of 2017. Also in the second quarter, Vonage will offer Amazon Chime Pro Edition to its business customers at no extra cost, according to Amazon.

"The channel will be essential for Amazon as it looks to make traction in this very crowded space," Bellmar said.

Pierce said Chime will open up a new avenue for partnering with Amazon.

"The companies that have worked with Amazon in the past haven't necessarily been in the UC space," he said. "[Chime] is going to bring a new partner ecosystem to them."

Next Steps

Read about Cisco's Spark Board collaboration product

Take a look at an overview of Microsoft's Skype for Business Online

View the Best of Enterprise Connect award finalists

Dig Deeper on Voice and unified communications