Web Conferencing Runs Gamut

WebEx woos big customers with MediaTone; Convoq pursues SMBs with low-cost wares.

Enterprises can take advantage of the collaboration capabilities offered by Web conferencing. Thats the message from WebEx Communications Corp. and Convoq Inc., which are rolling out offerings that target enterprises and small businesses.

WebEx is announcing this week the third generation of its MediaTone network platform, on which the companys hosted Web conferencing application services run. As part of the announcement, the company is extending its service to a hybrid on-premise offering known as Extended MediaTone Exchange.

This offering consists of an appliance, managed by WebEx, that lets large organizations run MediaTone on their corporate networks, integrated with the global WebEx network.

Large WebEx customers, typically companies with more than $500 million in annual revenues, can get dedicated bandwidth and more control over WebEx in their environments, said WebEx officials in San Jose, Calif.

In addition, the WebEx update includes an improved interface, called PowerPanels, that lets users move, resize or minimize all meeting windows and application features, as well as support application sharing, video, streaming media and chat within a single screen, officials said. WebEx is also introducing new APIs in this release, for integration with on-premise applications and other hosted application services.

Convoq, of Lexington, Mass., is pursuing a different market with a free offering. The company last week announced at the Demo@15 show a free Web conferencing service called ASAP Express, for one-to-one Web meetings. More important, Convoq is trying to position itself in the SMB (small and midsize business) market as a low-cost alternative to services such as WebEx.

While WebExs lowest-cost offering, WebEx Express, starts at $75 per user per month for up to five users, Convoqs ASAP Pro service costs $250 per user per year for up to 15 users. For that, companies receive such features as VOIP (voice over IP), audio, video, text chat, screen sharing, a hosted version of Microsoft Corp.s PowerPoint and file transfer.

For Anthony Kong, vice president of services at BenefitPoint Inc., a San Francisco provider of a hosted CRM (customer relationship management) and procurement platform for employee benefits, the advantage of ASAP Pro is cost savings without a functionality sacrifice. BenefitPoint previously used licensed Web conferencing software from Centra Software Inc. and WebExs service through a reseller.

"The big thing about Convoq is the cost is capped," said Kong. "I can budget for the coming year what were going to spend on Webcasts. Prior to this, we were on a pay-per-use model. We brought the software in-house, but the cost of maintaining the software and renewing the license and the resources IT required wasnt cost-effective. Now were able to control our costs and keep our budget in line. And so far weve not seen anything weve actually lost functionalitywise."


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