AT&T is the latest US operator to hand over its messaging to Google

Messages by Google will soon be the default messaging app for all AT&T Android customers in the US, effectively killing attempts by operators to establish their own RCS platform.

US operators recently pulled the plug on the shambolic Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, which was formed in partnership with long time RCS (Rich Communications Services) cheerleader the GSMA less than two years ago. It was intended to catalyse an operator-led alternative to OTT messaging services such as WhatsApp, but it felt like a hail-Mary from the start. Nonetheless it must feel especially cruel to the GSMA for further evidence of its RCS failure to emerge as it tries to make MWC work at a time when we’re still obsessing about Covid.

RCS is supposed to be the heir of SMS/MMS, allowing images and interaction via messaging. While that facility already exists via OTT messaging, the thinking was that operators could add unique value to a platform they control by flogging access to their subscribers and stuff like that. You can see the potential but it would have required global operators to cooperate effectively with each other and, since even three or four US ones can’t get their act together, that seems highly unlikely.

“Many AT&T customers have enjoyed the advantages of RCS for years when texting with friends and family,” said David Christopher, GM of AT&T Mobility. “We look forward to working closely with Google to extend these benefits to even more of our customers as they enjoy richer conversations with others around the world.”

It’s been a great year for capitulation at AT&T. Only yesterday it decided to hand over its cloud and 5G operations to Microsoft, and in May it effectively admitted the zillions of dollars it spent on diversifying into content were largely wasted because it doesn’t have a clue about that sort of thing. Exhaustive strategizing led it to conclude that focusing on communications might be the way forward, but today’s news takes the shine off even that Damascene conversion.

To be fair to AT&T, the writing has been on the wall for operator-led RCS since Google decided to go all in on it last year. How can any operator hope to persuade smartphone users to choose its own apps over the default ones that are also supported and promoted by the platform owners? The user experience on smartphones has been dictated by Google and Apple for over a decade and this just marks another milestone in the inevitable takeover of mobile by big tech.

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