With the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the adoption of video conference tools, it appears that Alibaba will be joining the competition for a slice of this lucrative market. According to TechPlanet (in Chinese), Alibaba is launching Alibaba Cloud Conference, bringing it into direct competition with Tencent Meeting and Zoom.

Why it matters: Though Alibaba already offered videoconference functionality through its productivity app Dingtalk, this step frees it to compete purely on the strength of its dedicated video conferencing product.

  • In December 2019, Tencent launched a video conferencing tool called Tencent Meeting, which proved to be a prescient move when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out shortly after. Since March 2020, that tool has been internationally available.
  • Tencent’s move came after the international version of Zoom was temporarily blocked in September 2019, hampering the company’s expansion in China.
  • Both Tencent and Alibaba had already been moving into B2B services as sources of growth, but the Covid-19 pandemic may add a sense of urgency as the companies work to capture an influx of new potential customers.

Read more: Is Zoom crazy to count on Chinese R&D?

Details: The new video conferencing product, managed by Alibaba Cloud, includes many of the features seen in Tencent Meeting and Zoom. Though it lacks Tencent Meeting’s ease of signup, it promises high-performance sound and video.

  • Alibaba Cloud Conference supports (in Chinese) 1080p video, as well as other standard features like conference moderation and screen sharing.
  • Like Tencent Meeting, it also includes a “beautification” function for image-conscious users.
  • Up to 500 people can join one conference.
  • Tencent Meeting allows users to join conferences with their existing WeChat account, but Alibaba Cloud Conference users need their phone number to log in, and cannot use their Alibaba account or other third-party accounts.
  • Alibaba claims its network of CDN and edge computing nodes guarantee a superior experience.
  • Of their 2,800 CDN nodes, however, it is worth noting that 2,300 are in China.

Context: Market growth aside, the move toward a standalone video conference tool also comes in the wake of user criticism of Alibaba’s Dingtalk, which Alibaba may be able to sidestep with Alibaba Cloud Conference.

  • Although Dingtalk’s downloads have skyrocketed during the Covid-19 pandemic, the app has faced strong pushback from users who resent some of its intrusive features.
  • Earlier this month, the app went global with an international version, Dingtalk Lite, which omitted some of these features, and supported video conferences of up to 300 people simultaneously and a live broadcast function for more than 1,000 participants.

Read more: DingTalk begs for stars on China’s app stores

Shaun Ee

Shaun Ee is a Yenching Scholar working at the intersection of geopolitics, tech, and national security. Before moving to Beijing, he was assistant director at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber Statecraft...