You may be using RCS without even knowing

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Guillaume Le Mener, GM of Enterprise Solutions at Mavenir argues that there may still be a lot more to RCS than you think.

We have taken it for granted. When we use our smartphone, it is just another icon on the screen but, believe it or not, SMS is more than 35 years old. It was first proposed for the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in 1982, although its most popular time was the late 90s and early 2000s, when entire generations mastered the art of compressing ideas, passions and conversations into small snippets using the most ingenious abbreviations in order to fit within the 160 characters limit. And its popularity generated a significant amount of revenue for mobile network operators (MNO) worldwide.

Then the mobile internet exploded, data plans became ubiquitous and over-the-top (OTT) applications usurped the throne that SMS had held for more than two decades and the MNO’s person-to-person (P2P) messaging revenue was severely diminished. However, SMS continued to live on as the platform of choice for application-to-person (A2P) or business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions. You have been using SMS to receive your two-factor authentication codes, confirmations about flight reservations, links to download mobile boarding passes, discount codes and coupons, or alerts every time your credit card was not present for a transaction. Mobile messaging is a part of our lives, even though we don’t pay much attention to it anymore: we have taken it for granted.

But mobile messaging has been going through a complete transformation. Originally embraced by the GSM Association (GSMA) in 2008, a new messaging protocol was developed with the goal of succeeding SMS as the mobile messaging application of choice: Rich Communication Services (RCS).

RCS was initially an industry response to the threat of the OTT messaging applications that were eroding their P2P SMS revenue and so it focused on introducing the features that made these applications popular—conversations, images, video, audio, typing notifications, read receipts—while ensuring the global reach that SMS provided.

For many years, RCS struggled to grab interest from MNOs and handset manufacturers because the business case wasn’t favorable. The OTT applications had taken over the P2P business almost completely—except on the markets where all-you-can-eat SMS plans were already in place—and it was uncertain that RCS could retake the throne. But recently, RCS introduced the Universal Profile—which enhances its capabilities by laying out the common functionality that needs to be supported by every player—and there has been a sudden interest to use RCS for A2P applications, a scenario that provides a profitable business case. Moreover, there is a push by mobile handset industry giants such as Google and Samsung. All these developments have infused RCS with new life.

A major improvement in A2P messages

The RCS open platform provides developers with everything they require to implement and deploy advanced communication applications. The message richness, combined with its universal reach, make it a very attractive delivery vehicle for brands, and offers new revenue opportunities for MNOs.

RCS solutions have been in mobile networks for several years provide major improvements in A2P scenarios such as:

  • Sender identified by name, not a short-code or MSISDN
  • Integration of graphics and QR codes
  • Hot-buttons to websites replacing links
  • Executable code embedded in the message, enabling customers to take action immediately without going to a website
  • Spam protection and privacy control measures to maintain customer trust

And by combining it with solutions like messaging-as-a-platform (MaaP), RCS provides the basis for up-selling A2P SMS now, and a chatbot platform in the near future, as well as P2P message monetization and data sponsoring opportunities.

With Google pre-installing the new Android Messages app on Android 8.0 Oreo and Samsung adding their own RCS capable messaging application on their smartphones, almost all the Android devices launched in 2018 will be RCS compatible and most major networks have deployed or are deploying Universal Profile compliant RCS solutions in the market — 55 operators and 11 OEMs globally as of January 2018, according to GSMA, with a forecast of 200 operators by Q1 2019.

What about the iPhone?

Even though the iPhone represents a smaller market share—around 20% globally according to Statista—Apple is the second most popular smartphone vendor after Samsung and their flagship device is still considered one of the trendsetters in the industry. Therefore, it is only natural that key industry decision makers look at their positioning around RCS.

iOS 11, the latest version of the iPhone operating system, does not support RCS capabilities in their Messages application. Apple did not wait for RCS to become popular and invested in their own multimedia messaging solution that was named iMessage. The Messages application on the device automatically detects if a contact has the iMessage service and utilizes it in the conversation—the user knows because the messages are blue. If the destination does not support iMessage, the application falls back to utilize MMS or SMS, presenting the user with a green messaging interface.

But this doesn’t mean that RCS cannot be used on Apple devices. It is still possible to provide a downloadable application that allows users to benefit from RCS’ message richness and universal reach. In some cases, other iOS applications may utilize RCS as a messaging mechanism within a specific user experience. For example, amobile-native unified communications and collaboration (mUCC) solution uses RCS in the mobile network as the instant messaging delivery mechanism. RCS can deliver everything a unified communications solution needs—such as typing and delivery notifications, message store and forward, conversation synchronization, or image, video and audio assets— and more—for example, rich cards and carousels—with the ability to deliver messages to any phone number in the planet by downgrading to an MMS or SMS message when needed, just like iMessage does.

And although Apple does not usually advertise their roadmap, past experiences show that they normally adopt technologies once they are mature enough—such has been the case with WebRTC—which makes it likely that iOS will support RCS in the near future.

Conclusion

RCS has already permeated into the networks and is about to take the center stage in the mobile messaging theater.

Unbeknownst to most of the people, MNOs and device manufacturers have been implementing RCS within their solutions. The GSMA claims there were 159 million monthly active users of RCS globally, as of January 2018, forecasting 350 million by the end of 2018, representing a $74 billion market by 2021.

In the US, for example, T-Mobile is already claiming that 30 million customers are sending over 250 million RCS messages every day across their network.

With the closure of the Universal Profile 2.0 and the strong push by Android, in the next few months users will begin to see RCS in every aspect of their daily lives. Although they will not know it as RCS, for them it will be just messaging.

 

Meet Mavenir to discuss RCS implementation at 5G North America 2018, May 14-16, in Austin, Texas.

Google admits ‘Allo is rubbish and looks to revamp Messages

After years of trying (and failing) to create its own messaging platform to compete with the OTTs, Google has herded together Android device manufacturers to create a new carrier-based service: Chat.

The idea here is simple. According to The Verge, Google will attempt to create a new messaging platform by evolving the already existing Android Messages, incorporating now common features such as read receipts, typing indicators, full-resolution images and video, and groups, based on a standard called the ‘Universal Profile for Rich Communication Services’. Google tried to compete with the likes of WhatsApp and Telegram with an OTT service, but now it has given up. And to be honest, improving the current messaging default on Android devices is a pretty sound idea.

What is worth noting is that this will not be a Google service, though the internet giant will take credit for harmonising the ecosystem. Strategically this is a very important development for the firm, it was one of the more vocal contributors to the new standard, as it looks to retain the strangle hold on the communications world. The key world here is harmonization, as this is the very reason OTT messaging platforms took off.

RCS was supposed to be the successor to SMS, though due to the inability of carriers or handset manufacturers to create compatible services based on the ‘standard’ it was a disaster. SMS was terrible, and the industry couldn’t come together to create an agreed path forward. The door was opened for the OTTs to offer a service which was designed with everyone in mind. With Chat, Google is seemingly hoping to correct mistakes of the past by creating a messaging platform which actually works for every Android user.

This is a modernization of the messaging service which is already on many Android devices as the default. Not only will it look like a modern messaging service, but messages will also be sent with your data plan. It puts the service in-line with the more popular platforms on the market, though end-to-end encryption will not be a feature. This might be a bit of an own-goal by Google, as recent events have shown the world is sensitive to privacy and security.

Whether Google is able to wrestle users away from the popular WhatsApp platform remains to be seen, though this is an announcement which is long overdue. Android Messages looks like a service which was designed for feature phones and no-one at Google could be bothered to update it. It’s boring, slow, clunky, uncreative and limited. When you look at how messaging platforms have evolved over the last couple of years, Android Messages reminds you of the sports superstar from school, who peaked at 16 and is attempting to live off past glories. It’s a bit sad more than anything else.

Alongside the introduction of now-common messaging features, Google will also introduce its virtual assistant to the platform and also GIF searches, explaining the acquisition of Tenor last month. GIFs are becoming an increasingly popular way to communicate, as younger generations continue to find new ways to avoid talking to each other. The company said it has more than 12 billion searches every month, which is likely to increase.

Despite the popularity of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, you have to remember Android Messages is a default service on the vast majority of Android devices in the market. It is a constant for Android users and presents a very useful opportunity for Google to regain control of the messaging world. The opportunity to be relevant has always been there, so we are quite surprised it has taken the internet giant this long to do anything about it. Why did it spend so much time trying to create something new, when it could evolve?

Another interesting area to consider is that while the OTTs apps are incredibly popular, there are still users out there who use SMS. Anil Sabharwal, who will be heading up the area, estimates 8 trillion SMS messages are sent every day. This is still a massive user base to care for, but we wonder whether the majority of these are based in developing markets. Reconverting the digitally-evolved markets much be a tricky task. Google will also have to think of a way to convert iLifers onto the platform, otherwise it is unlikely to be more than a footnote on the continued dominance of WhatsApp.

Right now Android users have nothing to think about. There is no need to download new apps, the service will be turned on inside the current Messages app dependent on each carrier, which Google hopes will be by the end of the year.