RCS – Simplify, select, succeed

Informa’s Rich Communication 2013 conference, held in Berlin at the end of October, demonstrated that mobile operators are embracing key aspects of RCS to market and deliver targeted services to their customers, rather than viewing the technology itself as a means to an end.

Several operators were on hand to discuss and demonstrate their new RCS products and services that, if one didn’t know better, would appear to have little basis in RCS at all.  For example, Orange has updated its Libon application to operate in an RCS environment while focusing on adding value for basic services, such as with personalised voicemail greetings for a user’s contacts, and Vodafone announced a new service to be rolled out shortly in multiple countries: MessagePlus.

This product is to be marketed as an extension to Vodafone’s SMS service. Two MessagePlus users will experience additional, richer capabilities while messaging one another, including file attachments and delivery notifications.  The audience also heard that Sprint has launched a similarly named service, Messaging+, that operates from an RCS client and network supplied by Jibe Networks to provide several new features between users, including voice and video over IP in addition to basic IP messaging.

These applications have some commonality in that they all rely on downloadable apps that are (mostly) available cross-platform to enable a consistent look and feel on all key devices and operating systems. While operators are still expecting the device OEMs to introduce their own native RCS clients, it seems clear that these will supply the lowest common denominator approach to RCS—the RCS of last resort.

So mobile operators are launching RCS-based services offering features targeted for specific market scenarios that they believe will better help them compete with both traditional competitors and new entrants in the OTT space.  It seems, therefore, that the marketing groups in some of the larger operators are now engaged and simplifying the RCS proposition to fit their needs. This is a change from what was perhaps the previously held view that the entire RCS feature portfolio must be deployed en masse to ensure some kind of global success.

Will this new approach from operators engage their subscribers?  Perhaps, if the proposition is simple enough and the incentive interesting enough. At Informa’s conference, Orange stated that, since the introduction of Libon with their “Sosh” branded mobile plans in France, they have seen Facetime usage fall by 22 per cent, Skype traffic fall by 10 per cent and Viber calls fall by almost 80 per cent while at the same time seeing their own International PSTN minutes growing by almost 20 per cent.

Of course, people will still use other apps that fill feature gaps not addressed by the operators’ own products and to communicate with communities of friends outside of the RCS domain.  But a gradual penetration of the user base with a simple yet profoundly useful RCS app can pave the way for the introduction of more sophisticated features later through automatic updates from the app store.

Maybe the lesson to be learned here is that starting with a downloadable app, building on an operator’s existing services to target specific market challenges while offering one or two novel features that users will appreciate is the right way to rapidly introduce RCS-based services to the mobile community, rather than the alternative of setting out a ‘grab bag’ of RCS features that users don’t really understand the need for and then hoping for the best.

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