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Start-up offers Web conferencing on the cheap

Convoq takes aim at WebEx and other rivals with low-cost virtual meetings--and wins some big clients.

Boston-area start-up Convoq may be a Web conferencing latecomer, but its bargain basement prices are earning attention.

The company's service is comparable to those offered by WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting--but at a fraction of the price.

Convoq charges a flat annual fee of $250 for Web conferencing, with up to 15 participants and no time limitations. WebEx Communications, the most popular Web conferencing service, and Microsoft both charge $375 a month for up to five participants. Convoq is also cheaper than Citrix's GoToMeeting, which costs $468 per year for up to 10 participants per meeting.

The 3-year-old company is showing off its technology with 70 other start-ups in Scottsdale, Ariz. this week at the Demo conference, an annual technology showcase founded by venture capitalist Stewart Alsop.

Convoq also introduced on Monday a free two-person version of its service, called ASAP Express. Like its Pro version, the free service incorporates text chat, voice conferencing, video and presentation sharing. The company bills it as a "personal Web conferencing system" for students and professionals.

Kim Shah, Convoq's vice president of business development, predicted that falling prices and ease of use will bring Web conferencing to the masses. "People will want to do this all the time," Shah said.

The company, which released its flagship product a year ago, has already signed up The Washington Post, the U.S. Coast Guard and the University of Georgia as clients.

The global market for Web conferencing services was projected to reach about $560 million last year, up from $470 million the previous year, according to Wainhouse Research. The market is teeming with competitors, and prices are coming down.