Will COVID-19 be a catalyst for the digital transformation of enterprise communications?

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Patrick Joggerst, CMO and EVP Business Development at Ribbon Communications, looks at how the current crisis may transform the way businesses communicate.

The Covid-19 pandemic is affecting people and industries around the world at an unprecedented velocity. While this situation is unprecedented and scary, we are seeing touching acts of kindness and a determination to keep going.

This is particularly true in our industry of telecommunications, which is fundamental to keeping society online and informed, as well as ensuring critical aspects of the economy can continue to function. For the majority of us who are currently not sick, maintaining our productivity at work in the face of this adversity is critical. It will support the economy both now and as things recover, and it will also help us to keep morale high during this period of prolonged isolation from our regular day-to-day life.

Countries around the world are now thinking about how to safely restart their economies, and telecommunications has a massive role to play. Businesses which had not been used to having remote employees have suddenly turned to our systems of communication and connectivity. We expect that many gains in comfort with these tools will be made soon, and smart providers are already seeing asking how they can  improve on what exists currently. Achieving this when there is so much uncertainty in the world will not be easy, but we are already seeing changes that will have a tremendous impact both now and in the future.

One obvious change, driven by the huge number of people now working from home or remotely, is an increase in awareness of the crucial role that communications technology can play in keeping employees engaged, customers served, and businesses running. Many businesses are now realising that they already have a solution that enables employees to seamlessly switch on and do their job wherever they have an internet connection. Others are quickly playing catch up. As a result, usage of platforms such as Microsoft Teams has risen rapidly in the effort to get as much the global workforce as possible online.

This shift in attitudes is especially apparent in the events industry – particularly in the tech and telecoms sectors – where there are questions around the future of major tech conferences in light of the cancellation of this year’s Mobile World Congress and many others. The cancellation of mass gatherings and face-to-face meetings is already forcing companies to ask whether we need to practice what we preach – ourselves included – and make significantly better use of the digital technologies that we produce.

We are realising that, at present, too many companies have no function to set up their employees from home, and those that do have too many different tools for communicating internally and with their customers. Be it email, chat or a video conference bridge, presently these tools are rarely connected through one, internet-based platform. The problem with this is that it makes communication clunky and it puts users off when things go wrong, thus preventing them from making the most of the technology at their disposal. With so many different applications being used by employees – which means numerous passwords, or in many cases the same password used many times – this also poses a significant security risk.

This need not be the case. Among the gamut of real-time communications technologies available to business in the 21st century – unified communications and Communications Platform-as-a-Service to name a few – there is the option connect all of the many tools that we currently use for communications and to organise them within one, centralised platform. This facility enables companies to embed real-time contextual communications capabilities, such as voice, video and chat, directly into their applications and websites, meaning a more seamless experience when interacting both internally and externally. This technology ensures that communication and the sharing of information can take place across multiple mediums wherever you are in the world with an internet connection.

This is not new technology, but right now we are seeing a catalysation of uptake in digital transformation of communications across many businesses – largely in the professional services sectors – as they are forced to find workarounds to stay online during the Covid-19 crisis. In ordinary times, these companies may not have invested in such technologies and while the catalyst for this investment is tremendously sad, we do believe that this shift to digital will have a tremendous and lasting benefit to business globally. When we emerge from this crisis, many businesses can and will be better for it, and that is something we can hold onto over the coming weeks.

 

Patrick Joggerst is the Chief Marketing Officer and Executive Vice President of Business Development for Ribbon Communications, a secure real time communications company. Previously, Patrick was EVP of Global Sales & Marketing for GENBAND. He has an accomplished career in communications spanning three decades, having managed sales and marketing organisations for both telecommunications service providers and technology suppliers. Prior to GENBAND, Patrick served as Vice President of Global Sales for BroadSoft. Patrick is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.

Maybe we should stop talking Millennials and start chirping Generation Z

With 5G becoming a reality, it won’t be too long before new services are launched, which is perhaps why we should stop talking about Millennials and start focusing on Generation Z.

It might seem absurd to ditch the millennials demographic, especially considering they have been referenced so frequently in recent years, but if we are looking to the future, we aren’t designing products and services for the current generation.

If 4G was a technology designed for Millennials, then 5G might possibly have to be designed for Generation Z. In five years’ time, when 5G is likely to be largely ubiquitous in the developed market, this is a digital-native demographic which will come of age with wild ambitions, big plans and credit cards.

Although the definitions of the different generations does vary, below seems to be a widely accepted definition.

Category Born Age range today
Generation X 1965 to 1980 40 to 55
Millennials 1981 to 1996 39 to 24
Generation Z 1997 to 2012 8 to 23
Generation Alpha 2013 onwards 0 to 7

Of course we are being very flippant when we suggest forgetting about the Millennials. This is and will continue to be a generation of individuals who have money and will want to spend it, but for those who are attempting to create a service to take the world by storm, an innovative eye will have to be cast beyond the horizon.

As an example of creating future-proofed services for the generation which is likely to be the most attractive, lets have a look at Rich Communication Services. It is an evolution for the telcos and SMS, but the Millennials are all using WhatsApp. RCS is redesigning a service created for a previous generation and competing against one which has been designed with today in mind. This is an attempt to savage old revenues, as opposed to thinking ahead and attempting to create new streams.

With every new generation of mobile technology, a change in societal behaviour is enforced. 4G democratised mobile internet and was embraced by the Millennials much more aggressively than Generation X. Arguably, older demographics have become accustomed to a way of life, therefore are not as welcoming of change, which will perhaps explain why so many services are seemingly designed for Millennials. But could the same not be said about 5G?

In five years’ time, Millennials will be in the same position as Generation X when 4G started gathering momentum. Your correspondent is a Millennial, so is writing from an informed (somewhat) position and is perhaps exasperated by the idea of something completely new. Today, your correspondent becomes frustrated attempting to learn all the different nuances and features of smartphones, applications, platforms or services, something which would not have been a problem in the first post-Uni years of the early 2010s.

But perhaps there is evidence of services being designed for Generation Z, even if the buzzword is yet to catch on completely.

Twitch is video live streaming service, designed for online gamers, which was acquired in 2014 by Amazon for $970 million. This is effectively an aggregator platform for commentary on gaming videos, tips and tricks, highlights or live streaming of organised competition and all other forms of user-generated content.

This might sound like a ridiculous idea to many reading this article, but Twitch has four million content creators who contribute every month, 15 million daily active users on average and more than 600 billion minutes of content were streamed through the platform over the course of 2019.

Members of Generation X or Millennials might find themselves asking a question now:

Why would anyone want to watch a video of someone else watching a video game and commentating on what is going on?

The users are of course gamers themselves (or very likely to be) but this does seem like a service which is beyond logic. Older demographics might struggle to understand why this is appealing, but then again it is not designed for us. Different types of content are emerging for a different generation, and there is plenty of money to made of the back of it should products be designed with the right nuances in place.

Another example of this evolving landscape is the work-from-home mentality which is being forced on us all due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is perhaps a glimpse into the future, where offices have become obsolete (perhaps not…) and the digital economy is running rampant. This would have been unforeseeable a few years ago, but a new era of connectivity could bring about an evolution in working practices.

Remote working is definitely not new, but it hasn’t really been embraced by the working world until it was forced to. Older generations might not be the most comfortable with the new status quo, but digitally native Generation Z may well be.

Of course, what is worth noting is this is simply history repeating itself. In the mid-00s, some older individuals might have wondered why anyone would want to display personal details on their lives for everyone to see (Facebook), how people could trust taxi drivers when you haven’t rung the depot (Uber) or why on earth you would want to stay in the spare room of someone else’s home (AirBnB).

These are all products which were designed for the next generation and enabled by the emergence of a new mobile technology. The Millennials are far from an obsolete generation for the ambitious innovators, but to fully embrace the 5G era, perhaps the baton will soon have to be passed to Generation Z.

But what could these services look like? Virtual reality might be one, having been written off numerous times by today’s demographics. Virtual meetings and video conferencing will certainly be a trend is staying for the long-term. The voice interface might well overtake touch at some point in the future, and there does seem to be incredible potential for gesture control. And who knows what else connectivity could be embedded into in the future…

And what is important to Generation Z? This is a generation which tends to travel more, is more socially and environmentally conscious, are super-swipers with relatively short-attention spans, they demand connectivity and access to services constantly, are OK with the cloud but take digital privacy and security more seriously and as they have been born into the social media revolution, are more welcoming of user-generated content, as well as creating it themselves.

If you’re wondering what might be big in the future, ask some of the kids in the office and just remember all the things which don’t make sense to you. It takes a special type of person to design products for the next era, but it will become a necessity as 5G stumbles towards us, albeit at a slower pace while we are in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic.

Millennials, we had a good run, but maybe we are just getting a bit old.

US cell site vandalized as Chinese agents accused of sowing panic

US intelligence agencies claim Chinese agents are working to amplify messages that cause panic, while the first report of a cell tower being vandalized has emerged.

As arguably the most significant global crisis since World War 2 progresses, the public appetite for crazy theories and salacious gossip has increased, alongside a perfectly reasonable thirst for the latest news. Additionally this is certainly the most major crisis of the internet and social media era, so every type of information is being spread with unprecedented speed and scope.

Anxiety tends to drive suggestibility as awareness of danger is heightened alongside an increased need for reassurance and, according to a New York Times report, US intelligence agencies are worried that those with an interest in sowing panic among the US population are actively seeking to spread pieces of information that may do so.

Six unnamed US officials told the NYT they reckon Chinese operatives are starting to act in this manner, which is reminiscent of the kind of mischief that has been associated with Russia for some time. Specifically they’re suspected of using bogus phone and social media accounts to get the ball rolling on already existing to make sure they gain traction.

A major cause of domestic friction in the US is the lockdown imposed on most of the country in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. Civil liberties are a foundation of US culture in a more profound way than much of Europe, let alone the rest of the world, so its citizens tend to be more instinctively opposed to being told what to do by the state. As a result there are already protests against the lockdown in some parts of the country, which are presumably being fuelled by rhetoric from the President, urging some states to open up.

The US President doesn’t seem to have commented on these allegations, perhaps conscious of his own prolific use of social media to further his interests, and the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed them out of hand. However, Trump has been keen to point the finger of blame for the crisis at China and tensions between the two countries have undoubtedly been heightened by it.

What’s not clear is whether deliberate misinformation played a role in the vandalization of a Verizon cell site in New Jersey, as spotted by Light Reading. The vandals haven’t been caught, so we can’t be sure what specific grievances they have against the cell site, but it’s hard to believe the lunacy regarding COVID-19 and 5G that has gripped much of Europe didn’t play a part in their thinking.

The longer these unprecedented lockdowns continue, the greater the probability there is of significant civil disobedience. While hostile foreign powers may be seeking to stoke panic, attempts to censor such messaging are not only futile, they may well serve to augment existing paranoia. The anonymous US officials who briefed the NYT may have been hoping to unite the country in the face of a common enemy, but they are paradoxically also adding to the flow of unsubstantiated gossip they claim to be fighting against.

UK government relies on operator cooperation for emergency text messages

Every UK mobile subscriber should receive a text message from the government today, telling them to stay at home and linking to the new restrictions.

This was only made possible with the cooperation of the country’s operators, as there is no dedicated public messaging system in place. The UK government had a look at developing such a thing back in 2013, but after a year apparently decided it couldn’t be bothered. Maybe that was because it concluded it could always get the operators to do the job for it.

According to the BBC this sets a new precedent. It also suggests the reason the standalone system was abandoned was that it was too expensive. As we’re now finding out, even in the freest countries the state can grant itself almost limitless powers in times of emergency, which vindicates the government decision not to blow public funds when perfectly good networks were already in place.

Nonetheless the Guardian has had a bit of a moan about the current situation, paradoxically lamenting the fact that the absence of a dedicated public communications system has left it reliant on the media to keep the UK people up to date. Another perspective could be that this is a great example of successful public/private partnerships reducing redundancy and needles expense.

While strict lockdowns have been taking place all over the world as countries try desperately to slow the spread of the disease, the UK government has only resorted to legal force today after appeals to reason failed. UK operators deserve praise for stepping up to the plate to aid the collective struggle in this way and, with the successful precedent set, will doubtless be called upon to serve their country many more times before this is over.

RCS messaging is a huge opportunity but operators must work together to realize its potential

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Mary Clark, Chief Product Officer and CMO at Synchronoss, reflects on the RCS opportunity and what will be required to exploit it.

I remember ten years ago when the GSMA established the Rich Communications Service (RCS) steering committee and the telecom industry started work on how to take advantage of the new messaging technology.

Finally a decade later, operators are beginning to embrace the potential and the promise of RCS, and they are doing so together.

Two operator groups on opposite sides of the world have separately taken the first steps in this process. In 2018, Japanese operators came together to create a fully interoperable, RCS-based cross-operator advanced messaging platform. Then last October, the four largest mobile operators in the United States announced their own Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI), a new joint venture to launch RCS-based advanced mobile messaging across all four of their networks later this year.

The motivation driving these two operator groups to accelerate RCS-enabled advanced messaging is clear: It’s subscribers’ appetite for easy-to-use, feature-rich messaging combined with operators’ own need to continuously improve the customer experience and create new revenue streams.

Consumers are ready

Early last year, Synchronoss brought together dozens of U.S. consumers of all ages to discuss their mobile messaging habits. One especially interesting finding emerged during the focus group discussions: Participants used the term “messaging” when they talk about OTT messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. The term “texting” was used when referencing traditional SMS exchanges.

What also became clear is that despite their use of multiple messaging apps, nearly every mobile user preferred using the native pre-loaded SMS messaging application on his or her device.

Why? Expectations for traditional SMS-based messaging are higher than expectations for OTT apps. Consumers consider traditional texting secure, private and reliable, and they know their personal contacts all have access to text – which isn’t necessarily the case with messaging apps. In other words, they trust tried-and-tested SMS to get the job done.

I fully expect consumers to discover even more value in texting once they experience RCS-powered messaging for themselves. When focus groups saw demonstrations of RCS and its extra functionality, the vast majority were enthusiastic about the new format and eager to try it for themselves. What was really appealing was being able to accomplish everything they currently do across multiple apps but from a single messaging platform and with a single contact list for friends, family and services.

Let’s be clear: RCS messaging won’t replace OTT messaging apps. But native messaging based on RCS is the next evolution of operator-led SMS and will play an essential role at the heart of the new messaging ecosystem.

Operators reap the rewards

RCS messaging gives operators three things they badly want today: improved customer engagement, ongoing loyalty and the chance for new revenues.

First: RCS vastly enhances the customer experience by providing a much richer messaging experience that incorporates multimedia plus a high level of personalization.

Second: Operators get to cash in on their hard-earned reputations as defenders of customers’ privacy, especially since some OTTs have come under intense criticism for their attitudes regarding customer privacy. RCS messaging offers privacy by design and the very same level of protection as SMS, and operators will be rewarded for their diligence in protecting it.

Finally: RCS gives operators a significant new opportunity to grow their revenue outside of traditional lines of service by being able to offer brands a feature-rich, permission-based direct marketing channel that consumers actually use.

According to Gartner, SMS continues to appeal as a valuable marketing channel for brands. Compared to email, text-based marketing messages have higher open rates, higher response rates and higher click-through rates. Combine SMS’s cross-network interoperability with customer appetite for the content-rich, personalized brand interactions that RCS enables, and it’s obvious that operators are sitting on an opportunity potentially worth billions of dollars.

Early RCS marketing trials are already delivering impressive results. A trial by fast food chain Subway used RCS for real-time, image-rich AI-driven conversations to personalize the ordering and checkout process. During the trial, Subway experienced a 146 percent uplift in orders and a 50 to 60 percent increase in conversion rates. These types of figures will only increase interest in RCS from brands that want to achieve substantially higher open rates and vastly improved customer engagement.

The RCS revolution is here

Two years ago in 2018 on stage in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, Synchronoss CEO Glenn Lurie talked about future challenges. He told operators that the time had come to take advantage of new and innovative technologies and the benefits of collaboration with each other. Since then, operators in Japan and the United States – two massive markets – have prioritized collaboration and cooperation to create a truly differentiated customer experience via RCS-based messaging.

This is monumental and just the beginning. The progress made around RCS over the last 12 months shows what our industry can achieve with new technologies and by working together. Today’s mobile ecosystem is primed and ready for the massive step change that is operator-driven RCS messaging.

However, operators who continue to procrastinate and ignore the opportunities that RCS presents will face a future of disappointed subscribers and lost revenue. The time has come for us all to put aside our differences and join the RCS revolution together.

 

Mary Clark is the Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer of Synchronoss, responsible for global product management, marketing and communications. Prior to joining Synchronoss, Mary served as the CMO and Senior Vice President of Roaming at Syniverse. Throughout her 25 years in mobile, she has held several executive-level positions and currently serves as a Board member for The CTIA Wireless Foundation and is an industry advisor for Astra Capital Management.

 She has been an active industry speaker as well as a contributing writer for Global Telecoms Business and CMO.com. Mary is a champion of gender diversity and has been heavily involved in the Women4Tech program founded in 2016, the GSMA’s program on promoting women leadership in mobile technology.Her recognition spans from being named to the National Diversity Council’s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology” list in 2016 and 2017 to Mobile Marketer’s “Mobile Women to Watch 2016” list. Most recently she was named to Capacity Magazine’s 2018 20 Women to Watch 2018, a list of some of the most prominent women in telecom.

RCS marks new age of customer engagement for operators

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece John Wick, GM of Global Product at Syniverse, make the case that RCS’s time has finally come.

It’s been a developing technology for more than a few years now, but Rich Communication Services (RCS) is finally coming to fruition and ready to make the impact that mobile operators and brands alike have been waiting for. There’s been no shortage of hype around this technology – and with good reason – but the tipping point is at last approaching when traditional text messaging is expected to have to make room for the functionality that RCS promises to bring.

Once past this point, operators will be handed new keys to the kingdom to be able to work more closely with brands of all sizes and industries. What’s more, operators will be positioned to become a more fundamental, revenue-generating partner at the centre of audience, employee and customer engagement.

So why are brands getting excited?

Put simply, RCS brings intuitive, engaging, and sticky brand experiences for driving long-term loyalty and becoming a central point of contact in a consumer’s life. This technology will transform messaging by taking its best functionality and giving it a 21st century upgrade, with features like high-resolution imagery, advanced video and audio capabilities, location information, and analytic feedback, just to name a few.

Let’s take a closer look at what opportunity this will mean for operators.

Brand and operator synergy
The industries set to benefit by RCS are wide-ranging. However, to begin to put this potential in perspective, let’s look at the hospitality sector. Imagine you’ve booked a hotel room after searching online, received a text message from the hotel thanking you, and then received your reservation details. This itself isn’t revolutionary – it’s standard, one-way interaction.

The opportunity with RCS, however, brings this interaction to another level. RCS-based conversational messaging will allow your hotel to suggest on-site amenities, such as dining options; or to book you a table by simply clicking a button; or to offer you a 10% discount off your bill. This can all be delivered within an RCS message, with no need for you to jump to another platform, such as the hotel’s app or website, and thereby enable one integrated, uninterrupted user experience.

Build a partner framework into this, and you’re able to suggest local attractions, discounted events, and local special retail offers, just to name a few things.

Moreover, this opens a whole ecosystem through which both the brand and the operator can drive revenue. From a customer perspective, it makes the booking richer, more valuable and more integrated with the stay. It’s more than just a text telling you your room number.

Additionally, from a functionality perspective, an interaction can be handled through a chatbot within a single messaging stream. There’s no departure from the network. This conversationally driven, multi-message model, however, does require a new monetisation approach, which we’ll get to shortly.

Making RCS a reality
It’s clear that the opportunity, driven by the revolution in functionality will be a game-changer. But how will this become a reality?

The adoption of RCS will depend heavily on several factors that relate to robust interoperability: reach, coverage, security and pricing. Standardisation across the telecoms industry, in fact, will establish a foundation on which RCS can flourish, with interoperability being key to ensuring that access is not limited by network coverage. Networks will also need to work within a centralised model to avoid any drop in access or connectivity for users.

What’s more, quality of service will also be important. Customers will need to love it from day one and see the potential in order to accept this as a channel for the long term.

Interoperability crucial to monetisation
Finally, the billing aspect within the interoperability necessity will play a fundamental role in the monetisation of RCS. This aspect of the RCS opportunity is one which perhaps brings a fresh revenue model for operators, as well as a chance to tie them significantly closer to brands.

Operators can benefit from brands’ successes by creating a framework of partnership revenue sharing from those using RCS. This would essentially be a pay-per-click system, except for bookings, purchases, and uptake that brands have secured through using the operator platform. Mutual success would encourage development and two-way support.

Pricing models
Payment brings us back to the pricing model that will need to be established to handle the traffic without relying on legacy models for the consumer. Text messaging has become a product that most consumers think of as ‘free’. However, RCS will deliver a far more conversation-based approach to messaging, with the potential for numerous messages throughout a thread. Therefore, rather than pricing by message, the results of these conversations could be potentially priced on a sliding scale via metrics such as click-through rates, conversion rates, or peak times (times at which messages would most likely be opened) for sending messages.

On this front, operators can continue to become central to brands’ success. Simplified pricing models, can make it easier for brands to see good margins returned on their investment and measure success. Further, transparent models, such as billing by time, not per message, could fuel conversation and encourage discussion with those behind the brand (and its partners). The operator can give the brand the support and orientation expertise that its in-house team requires, and the models, functions, and brand services can follow.

Looking Ahead
RCS will soon unleash a dynamic phase of engagement between operators, brands and consumers through a text messaging channel with a 21st century makeover. However, there is still work to do to develop the technology foundation and partnership ecosystem for enabling this.

It’s up to operators to demonstrate the potential, lead the creation of the technology, and bring innovators on board accordingly. Once this is in motion, we can expect to see a new wave of brands jumping in with RCS. And with a solid revenue-sharing model in place, there will be mutual interest and powerful revenue incentive in making the most of this technology.

 

John Wick serves as Senior Vice President and General Manager, Global Product, and is responsible for the management and growth of Syniverse’s three primary product lines, which include networking, messaging, and transaction and clearing.

Google undermines US carrier RCS initiative by launching its own

Less than a month after the four US MNOs announced a joint RCS initiative for Android, Google has decided to launch its own.

Google was conspicuously absent from the announcement of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile US and Sprint last month. Considering it was all about championing RCS on Android you have to assume there had been some dialogue between the operators and Google, but the omission of the latter from the press release indicated progress had been slow.

Now, having not done anything significant about RCS in the US for over a decade, Google has suddenly found the motivation to upgrade all SMS messaging on Android to RCS. In a brief blog post Sanaz Ahari, Product Management Director at Google, explained all the cool new things US Android users will now be able to do via the text function. It could almost have been a CCMI press release.

It’s hard to see this as anything other than a direct attempt to undermine the nascent CCMI project. The US operators saw Google’s RCS apathy as an opportunity to add some value themselves, so Google acted quickly to pull the rug out from under them. It could be that some of the features operators reckon they’re able to uniquely offer, such as keeping user data out of Google’s hands, might still give them an advantage, but this looks like a major setback for them.

Synchronoss unveiled as tech partner for latest US RCS effort

The Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative will use Synchronoss tech in its attempt to make RCS into a useful mainstream alternative to SMS and OTT messaging services.

RCS (Rich Communications Services) has been around for a while, but most people have had a tough time caring, content as they were with SMS for simple messaging and OTT services like WhatsApp for sending photos and that sort of thing. But the four big US operators reckon there’s life in the old dog yet and launched the CCMI a few weeks ago to make a proper go of it.

Synchronoss is a US company that specializes in providing operators with extra services to sweeten their offerings, one of which is messaging, so it’s not surprising to see it unveiled as a key partner in this initiative. With little apparent demand for a new flavor of messaging, the end product of this collaboration needs to offer something special if expects people to give it the benefit of the doubt.

“The cross-carrier messaging initiative has the potential to transition the wireless ecosystem to a new, innovative messaging service that will power new experiences – allowing U.S. wireless customers to manage their digital life and enabling efficient and convenient interactions with their favorite brands from a single application,” said Glenn Lurie, CEO of Synchronoss, before pausing for breath.

“The launch of this initiative signals the beginning of the era of advanced messaging in the U.S. that will begin to unite communication, services and entertainment in entirely new ways. Synchronoss, along with our partner WIT Software, has seen first-hand how powerful advanced messaging can be around the globe, and we believe there is tremendous potential for this in the U.S. on multiple fronts. This collaboration exemplifies how working together can enhance the entire mobile ecosystem.”

“By collaborating with Synchronoss, we’ll be able to successfully advance the messaging experience through RCS and take the next step to further the conversational commerce ecosystem,” said Doug Garland, GM of the CCMI joint venture. “With new RCS capabilities all four wireless carriers together will be able to create better overall mobile messaging customer experience.”

Synchronoss and WIT Software have some form in this area, having been involved in a similar RCS enterprise in Japan last year. If RCS is to belatedly take off it will probably be because it enables some new kind of communication between businesses and end users that all concerned consider valuable. It’s not immediately obvious what form that will take, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

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.

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.

Apple U-turns again to pull HK map app under pressure from Beijing

Apple has removed the crowd-sourced app HKmap.live, favoured by the protesters in Hong Kong, from its local App Store, after being blasted by China’s state media.

The submission of the mapping app, developed on top of the web version which could enable users to instantly track the police movements, among other things on the roads, was first rejected by Apple, on the ground that “the app allowed users to evade law enforcement.” This caused strong protest from both local users in Hong Kong and politicians in the US so Apple reversed its decision and made the app available. The US Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) told his followers on Twitter that Apple admitted it “mistakenly” failed to go through full review process the first time:

Shortly after the change of mind by Apple, the People’s Daily, one of the Chinese Communist Party’s major propaganda outlets, accused Apple of “helping HK rioters engage in more violence”. Apple quickly undertook a second reversal in days to take down the app. The company said in a statement on the decision that the app “has been used in ways that endanger law enforcement and residents in Hong Kong.” The web version is still available.

This is only one of the latest actions Apple has taken after finding itself caught in a perfect political storm. One day earlier it also removed Quartz, the online news publication, from the China App Store, following complaints from the Chinese government. Apple told Quartz that the app “includes content that is illegal in China”, reported The Verge.

Quartz believed this might refer to its discussion on VPN technologies, the use of which is illegal in China, and its coverage of and links to coverage of the ongoing protest in Hong Kong. Quartz’s website is also blocked by China’s Great Firewall. A week earlier when Apple updated its operating system, iPhone users who set their locale to  Hong Kong and Macau found the Taiwan flag had disappeared from emojis.

This is just one of the highest profile cases of global companies contorting themselves to appease local political interests, with China the centre of attention not the least because of its reputation as one of the most censorious countries, Apple vs. China only epitomises the delicate balance almost all global companies are forced to strike, and not always successfully. Whenever they enter markets that operate very differently to their domestic one, these companies, especially those from North America and Western Europe, have to make a choice between the values of their origin and market pressure.

Increasingly we have seen companies surrender to market pressure, which has led to more either remedial or even pre-emptive self-censorship. Such conflict has a long history in the digital age. Back in 2010, Google pulled out of China when it decided to no longer comply with the latter’s demand for censoring search results. In the same year, India, Indonesia, UAE, Saudi Arabia, among others, demanded access to the encrypted communication carried out by the then king of instant messaging, BlackBerry Messenger, for national security and data localisation purposes. RIM, the then owner of BlackBerry, bowed to the Saudi pressure, and Nokia, who also operated messaging services, decided to set up a local data centre in India.

Recently we have seen Google’s repeated attempts to re-enter China, by offering willingly to censor content to please the Chinese authorities, despite backlashes in its own office. Meanwhile games developer Blizzard had faced a backlash for acting against a Hong Kong protester, as has the US NBA for similar activity.