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opinion

Google, RCS and the war on telco messaging services

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Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this post, Alex Duncan, CEO of Openmind Networks celebrates the renewed interest in RCS but notes there is still work to be done.

Until a few weeks ago, it was a common belief that there was no tangible business case for Rich Communication Services (RCS). For years, the main argument against RCS has been that the investment operators need to make in the underlying IMS to support it, and the effort required to integrate it into their networks, was simply cost and time prohibitive.

RCS provides many of the features users have come to expect exclusively from Over-The-Top (OTT) players – including instant messaging, group chat, HD voice and video, image sharing and presence information. It was the technology born to halt fragmentation and interoperability issues arising in IP-based communications.

At Mobile World Congress, Google made an announcement that looks to finally bring RCS to the masses. Following the acquisition of RCS vendor Jibe Mobile last year, Google plans to integrate RCS capabilities into the Android operating system. So far, Google has 20 global operators on board including; América Móvil, Orange, Sprint, VimpelCom and Vodafone.

Despite the ongoing cynicism, Google’s isn’t the only attempt at driving the adoption of RCS. For example, China Mobile began trialling RCS in 2015, in a bid to take on WeChat. This deployment is expected to come to full fruition in the second half of this year. Yet while the wold’s largest operator believed that RCS is worth investing in, others have been more reluctant.

So what is it about Google’s announcement that is pushing operators to take RCS seriously?

The OTT Battle Continues  

Worldwide, voice and messaging markets continue to be invaded by agile OTT players – Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat and Viber – and this shows no sign of slowing down. In a bid to keep up momentum, OTTs are merging with each other to achieve scale or acquire new technology and develop new social features that’ll keep consumers invested.  Once seen as just a free gimmick, OTTs are now held as the gold standard in communication services by customers, now generating significant revenues.

To win back their mobile market share and its associated revenues, mobile operators must look to enhanced, rich platforms to meet the growing expectations of 21st century users. Crucially: these messaging services need to inter-work globally – just like SMS does today.

Playing Catch-Up

As part of Google’s RCS initiative, global operators had to agree to transition toward a universal profile based on the GSMA’s RCS specifications. This promise of a universal RCS profile – whereby mobile operators should be able to provide an open, consistent, and globally interoperable IP-enabled messaging service across all Android devices – has grabbed the attention of many operators. And why shouldn’t it?

According to IDC’s top-line projections, Android shipments will grow from 1.17 billion in 2015 to 1.62 billion in 2020 and its share of the smartphone industry will grow from 81% to 85%. With Android’s mobile presence steadily on the rise globally – it’s not a surprise that MNOs are beginning to take the RCS debate seriously.

The sheer scale of Android’s dominance means that an operator business case for RCS suddenly becomes viable. For an industry that has struggled with the business case for RCS, Google’s RCS play could finally see operators’ catch-up to the OTT offerings dominating the market at present. Innovative new features, like group chat, could now become part of the operator messaging experience – enhancing the experiences of over 4 billion SMS users worldwide, according to the GSMA. However, where RCS can really make its mark is in its ability to provide these services through a regulated and safeguarded network. With RCS, mobile operators are able to deliver controlled and secure IP messaging systems, creating a consistent level of service that cannot be achieved from OTT players.

Cloud-based implementation

Although the business case for RCS has spiked, the argument concerning the cost for implementing an IMS infrastructure is still under scrutiny. However, operators who are concerned with the initial cost of implementation can opt to test and implement these services via cloud-based hosted RCS platforms in parallel to upgrading their own infrastructure to support RCS. This approach provides extra flexibility and allows operators to begin to rapidly develop, test and deploy new richer communications services with reduced risk, disruption and cost.

Mobile messaging has never been more central to people’s lives. SMS carrier messaging is used by billions of people every day and enables people to reach anyone around the world, regardless of their device, carrier, app or location. RCS is a new standard for carrier messaging.

The spotlight that Google has shone on RCS has raised the profile and moved the conversation on in leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, for RCS to be a success mobile operators not only need to create an infrastructure that supports their own RCS offerings, but also offer a system that connects operators globally and establishes interconnections directly between mobile operators. Put simply, the RCS conversation is in full swing but, as is often the case with innovation, more needs to be done.  What remains constant is that operators must continue to evolve their core messaging and voice services, or face the inevitable irrelevance in the eyes of consumers.

 

Alex DuncanAlex has led Openmind through significant changes, from a zero revenue base to a multi-million dollar global enterprise with telecommunication customers in all parts of the world. Alex is responsible for leading the Openmind team to greater growth through the development and implementation of the company strategy. Alex holds two Trinity College, Dublin Degrees; a Master’s Degree in International Business together with Bachelor’s Degree in Electronic Engineering.


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