RCS is essentially SMS/MMS that can work over IP networks and can enable presence and location, and sharing of media. Kind of sounds familiar, except this is an app that is from your service provider, which adds much value to them. It’s available on some newer Androids, but not iPhones. If you have a newer Android (News - Alert), this feature could have value to you. It’s linked to your phone number instead of your identity via some app. This means both parties don’t have to have the same app to talk to each other. It’s like iMessage on the iPhone, but on Android and with more features.
This may not matter if you’re talking to your friends and you both have an app that you like and stay on all the time, but in business settings in which that’s unlikely and hard to coordinate, RCS will be very useful. It’s all about the different use cases.
It’s important to remember that RCS is not some new invention that has come about to battle the big bad OTT guys, but has been around for some time. That’s because with the new IP networks, the industry recognized there needed to be ways to message on them. However, there has only been limited success to date. There is only a modicum of service providers supporting RCS today. Remember, though, part of that reason is because the phones need to support RCS, and there have been few to date. That will change when the new Androids hit the market. Another part of the reason, obviously, is because there are messaging apps that run on the data networks, the so-called OTT apps. So the general thinking is no one really needs another one.
With this as a background, enter the Google announcement. Obviously, Google has an interest here because it has an interest in Androids, and it also knows that the future of telecommunications involves the battle for the phone number vs. app identity. So it is out to stop Apple and WhatsApp and that crowd. And what better way to do that than force an alliance with the phone numbers and offer the Android RCS client (called Jibe) for free?
Given that the GSMA (News - Alert) historically has supported RCS heavily, and anything involving Google would get huge interest and press, it comes as no surprise that we saw quite of bit of hype about RCS coming out of the GSMA during MWC. However, also remember we saw much hype in 2012 when Joyn, the GSMA branding of RCS, was announced. Keep in mind, this was the time when the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook and other instant messaging smartphone apps were starting to very seriously erode texting revenues. So the GSMA and service provider response was to announce something (that already existed!) evoking joining and interacting with a community that went across service provider boundaries. It didn’t say what it did; it just said join. But the real world isn’t a movie, and the build it and they will come aspect of Joyn didn’t work out. Those other non-Joyn services already did messaging very well, so the Joyn/RCS value was scant. The hype quickly died down.
Since that time, WebRTC technology also has entered the fray since the days the Joyn/RCS specs were completed. There are many service providers looking at WebRTC, which would enable many of the same kinds of values as RCS provides. It is still too early to tell how WebRTC will impact RCS, but it seems destined to.
But will the hype this time be justified? RCS has been slowly building momentum mostly because VoLTE has been slowly building momentum. VoLTE is IP-based voice/video on an LTE (News - Alert)/IMS network, and RCS adds IP-based messaging services that are also an evolution to legacy SMS/MMS messaging. So it makes sense that RCS started to be deployed once VoLTE started to be deployed. Is there really RCS business? If you believe in analyst reports, Markets and Markets has a report on RCS services stating that it will be a $5.7 billion business by 2019. I wouldn’t bet a business plan on an analyst report though.
So let’s get back to MWC 2016. If you walked around the MWC show floor, you would have seen a decent amount of RCS signage (no Joyn signage). The last few service providers that announced RCS support decided to brand it something else. And those companies couldn’t have known that Google was going to announce support of RCS. I talked to a few of them, and they said they have business on RCS, and that’s simply why they had RCS signage.
And really that’s what it is all about: business. Will RCS ever truly replace the glory days of SMS/MMS? No. Will RCS end the OTT guys’ reign? No. But will RCS actually be deployed, giving value to hundreds and hundreds of millions of subscribers, and enable more than a few companies to carve out a RCS niche? Seems likely.
Jim Machi is vice president of product management at Dialogic Inc. (www.dialogic.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi