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American telcos have sounded another death knell for RCS

AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile have pulled the plug on Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI), the telcos’ joint initiative to develop an RCS-based cross-carrier rich messaging solution.

First reported by Light Reading, the operators behind the initiative decided to call it a day. “The owners of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative decided to end the joint venture effort. However, the owners remain committed to enhancing the messaging experience for customers including growing the availability of RCS,” Verizon said in a statement sent to Light Reading.

CCMI was announced in 2019 by the four national operators (including the then independent Sprint) to shore up the push for the adoption of Rich Communications Service (RCS) standard on all Android devices (Apple has never endorsed RCS). The project hired the technology company Synchronoss to develop the solution, though not much has been communicated about the goings-on since.

Meanwhile Google has launched its own RCS compliant messaging app for Android devices, simply called Messages, which T-Mobile has embraced. In practice this means the Google app has become the default bearer of messages including text messages for Android users on T-Mobile networks. This could not but be read as a sign that T-Mobile was throwing in the towel and defaulting to Google to provide the service. Today’s statements from Verizon (and an identical statement from AT&T) looks to be echoing the sense of resignation on the operators’ side.

RCS has been around for over a decade. It was developed based on IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem), promoted by GSMA, the industry organisation primarily representing the interest of telecom operators. Mobile operators became more enthusiastic when their hitherto lucrative SMS business was disrupted and destroyed by the so-called “OTT messaging services”, starting with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) which was then joined by WhatsApp and the like.

While in terms of user features RCS has been playing catch-up to the WhatsApps and WeChats of the world, its key selling point of interoperability between operators is able to offer mobile operators an opportunity to not so much as competing in messaging as in offering other businesses a new channel to connect with consumers, the so-called A2P (“application to person”). According to Guilliaume Le Mener, Mavenir’s SVP for Enterprise Business, who spoke at the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona (2019), RCS is still seen by consumers as a “clean channel”, not tarnished by the privacy scandals that have mired Facebook and co, or the over monetisation (read spamming) by others. Research shared by Mavenir showed 97% of SMS / RCS are opened by recipients within 3 minutes.

Despite its promise, RCS uptake has been lacklustre. Even in Japan, an outlier where Plus Message, an RCS-based cross-carrier messaging service, has won more users than anywhere else, (and Line, the country’s most popular “OTT messaging service” was having a bad day) its user base (20 million) is only a fraction of Japan’s mobile users. NTT DoCoMo alone has 80 million subscribers. Consumer enthusiasm for RCS and operator buy-in in any other markets has been much more muted, which has led analysts to repeatedly proclaim its demise.

Against such backdrop much hope of RCS is banked on CCMI. However, the owners’ decision to declare the end of the joint venture must be a heavy blow to the future of RCS, no matter how good a spin is attempted on it. Whether it would be a fatal one still remains to be seen.

GSMA declined to comment when approached by Telecoms.com.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar Guillaume 15/04/2021 @ 1:13 pm

    SMS ( Short Messaging Service ) was especially lucrative since it was built in the first GSM networks and was using the control plane…
    ( yes you had it with your early 2G black bricks… it was a hidden feature often called Short Messages ).

    It became a thing ( and lucrative ) when the Operators found a way to make you pay for something that was already there and that had been used for free by those that knew about it for years. ( note : at that time it only worked between phones of the same operators, the only added value was the inter-operator SMS… and this hardly justified the fees for “texting” at that time )

    • Wei Shi Wei Shi 15/04/2021 @ 1:34 pm

      Exactement ! Merci Guillaume !

      Practically the profit margin was infinite.

  2. Avatar Mike Alban 10/09/2021 @ 12:53 pm

    If memory serves, SMS was actually developed for the RAN engineers to communicate efficiently when the first RANs were being rolled out. It is/was very simple tech and uses the side bands so doesn’t/didn’t diminish the then very limited capacity of analogue spectrum then in use . It was never envisaged that it would become ubiquitous. However, it’s main advantage was as a cheap and available, answering and/or disintermediating service. Some users preferred to send a ‘considered’ message rather than have a garbled call, some wanted quick coms in their timeframe not the recipients, others to send a message which could be read time-independent and saved for FREE rather than leaving a voice message which, in those days, were limited and carriers charged the recipient a fee to retrieve (or have the service). So the sender paid, not the recipient. And finally, in the early days of mobile, it was often technically possible to send a txt even when mobile coverage was nominally absent or poor or overloaded. And there-in lie both the strengths and weaknesses of SMS.

    With further RAN rollout and density/capacity and with the advent of GPRS/EDGE/etc based data services (separate from Voice) it was inevitable that an increasingly savy user base (exposed to real world stresses including increasingly sophisticated scamming) would call for and find a better, more secure msg services. That was, after all, the great driver of Blackberry success – security. The OTT suppliers were just following the demand and the money.

    Telcos were left with SMS which now has only the limited intrinsic value it originally built with but they further devalued it by using it as a ‘trap’ for novice users. We’ve all been stung when sending a photo by SMS! It was/is a self-destructive strategy. Every user stung immediately learned to switch to OTT services. The same is true for roaming revenues incidentally!

    RMS vs Whatsapp etc.? No chance! There is no market driver, no revenue incentive, no technical improvement, nothing. While we are now all addicted to data to some degree, we are also – post pandemic – extremely cost conscious and RMS offers no solution or anticipates any new problem we face. 10, even 5 years ago it might have had a place, but the opportunity is long gone.

    Telcos globally need to focus on 5G, latency and cost base with an eye to 6G. They desperately need to share vision with their current and potential 5G user base to help normalise, humanise and monetise the tech or they will miss the fabulous opportunities it represents. RMS is a side show – RIP.

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