Sprint launches own rich communications app

US operator Sprint has launched its own rich communications service for Android and iOS smartphones, which is compatible with non-Sprint subscribers’ handsets.

Messaging Plus allows subscribers to connect with family and friends via text, instant messaging, group messaging and video chat through a single application. It also supports file sharing. Sprint users can use the app to interact with users on any wireless carrier in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Non-Sprint users will be invited by their Sprint subscriber friends or can download the free Plus app from their app store.

The service will also be available to Sprint users free of charge and will not include any advertisements targeted at users. Customers’ usage of the app will be deducted from their data allowance, although Sprint still offers unlimited data bundles, meaning generating revenue from the app could be challenging.

The app is powered by cloud communications company Jibe Mobile which provided an open technology platform for the service. According to Jibe Mobile CEO Amir Sarhangi, it took less than four months to develop the app. “We’re seeing a lot of traction for such services and operators want to launch them quickly,” he explained.

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Operators have struggled to launch RCS services to compete with over the top (OTT) apps such as WhatsApp and Skype. Microsoft’s VoIP service is estimated to cost mobile operators worldwide $100m per day, according to research from MobileSquared.

In August this year, Spanish operator group Telefónica called time on its rich communication prototype, Tu Me. The app has now been discontinued and all user data deleted. Instead, users are being pushed onto Tu Go, which extends the same functionality to non-smartphone devices including iOS and Android tablets and Windows-based PCs; the same service will eventually be available to non-Telefónica customers as well.

However, undeterred by recent announcements, China Telecom also launched its own proprietary instant messaging application dubbed YiChat, also in August.

While some industry spokespeople have suggested operators should team up with OTT app providers rather than competing with them, Jibe Mobile’s Sarhangi believes that mobile users are likely to gravitate to using one single app for all of their RCS needs, rather than using various different apps, such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and Kik.

“In my view, it’s going to be a very difficult day that as a user, you buy a new phone and you have to select your method of communication according to some social network criteria; meaning a very fragmented world of communication. There can only really be one connected world for mobile which exists today when you pick up your phone and call any phone number and be routed properly through. Carriers must be able to support new features on top of their existing feature set, so that users can use these features without having to think about who they’re calling,” he said.

“Having said that, there is always a place to interoperate and work with OTT players when it comes to ensuring quality of experience. In my mind, there is a separation though, unless one of these OTT apps becomes so popular that it takes over the industry, which I don’t see happening any time soon.”

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