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US operators collaborate in one more effort to make people care about RCS

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have created the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative to push the Rich Communications Service standard on Android.

RCS is championed by the GSMA, which has been banging on about it for over a decade. It’s positioned as the heir apparent to SMS, offering all sorts of ‘rich communications’ such as images, group chat. That all would have been pretty handy when it was first proposed, but since then there have been countless OTT messaging apps launched, such as WhatsApp, which seem to provide at least everything RCS does. So it’s hard to see what the point of RCS is in this day and age.

The US operators clearly disagree, however, hence this announcement. It’s easy to see why operators, and therefore their lobby group, would want to promote a messaging standard that they have greater control over. But what is less obvious is the incentives smartphone users would have to switch to it. Presumably most would reflect on their current messaging app portfolio and conclude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“People love text messaging for a reason,” said David Christopher, GM of AT&T Mobility. “Texting is trusted, reliable and readily available – which is why we’re using it to build the foundation of a simple, immersive messaging experience. This service will power new and innovative ways for customers to engage with each other and their favourite brands.”

“The CCMI will bring a consistent, engaging experience that makes it easy for consumers and businesses to interact in an environment they can trust,” said Michel Combes, CEO of Sprint. “As we have seen in Asia, messaging is poised to become the next significant digital platform. CCMI will make it easy for consumers to navigate their lives from a smartphone.”

“At the Un-carrier, customers drive everything we do, and that’s no different here,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “Efforts like CCMI help move the entire industry forward so we can give customers more of what they want and roll out new messaging capabilities that work the same across providers and even across countries.”

“At Verizon, our customers depend on reliable text messaging to easily connect them to the people they care about most,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group. “Yet, we can deliver even more working together as an industry. CCMI will create the foundation for an innovative digital platform that not only connects consumers with friends and family, but also offers a seamless experience for consumers to connect with businesses in a compelling and trusted environment.”

Here are the things the CCMI says RCS brings to the table:

  • Drive a robust business-to-consumer messaging ecosystem and accelerate the adoption of Rich Communications Services (RCS)
  • Enable an enhanced experience to privately send individual or group chats across carriers with high quality pictures and videos
  • Provide consumers with the ability to chat with their favourite brands, order a rideshare, pay bills or schedule appointments, and more
  • Create a single seamless, interoperable RCS experience across carriers, both in the U.S. and globally

Of these the B2B angle seems the most compelling. There is still a surprisingly vibrant business around automated application-to-person (A2P) messaging, which typically operators use to communicate with their customers. The switch to RCS would bring a lot more options to that business. And then there’s the fact that you don’t need to know whether someone has an OTT app installed in order to send that message, although it should be noted that Apple shows no sign of supporting it.

We spoke to Charlotte Palfrey, Analyst at Ovum, and she confirmed that the B2B angle is the most fruitful one. “While RCS offers consumers no clear benefit over OTT messaging apps, telcos need the richer business messaging experience enabled by RCS in order to retain A2P messaging revenues in the face of increased competition from the OTTs,” she said. “With OTT business messaging plays still in the early phases, there is still time for telcos to drive A2P RCS adoption – provided they can get their launch strategy right.”

But there’s no getting around the fact that RCS is essentially a direct competitor to OTT messaging which, thanks to the inability of operators to act with any kind of urgency, now has a massive head start in the marketplace. Perhaps if more of them belatedly get their acts together, as the US operators have, they can start to build some momentum, but we’re not holding our breath.


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