UK steps up efforts to tackle smishing

No, that’s not a typo. Smishing refers to phishing over SMS, which is apparently on the increase as SMS fraudsters seek to exploit COVID-19 text alerts.

A bunch of UK organizations, including the Mobile Ecosystem Forum (MEF), Mobile UK and UK Finance, are trialling a new system designed to protect people from this opportunistic foulness. The trial, which is supported by the NCSC, uses the SMS SenderID Protection Registry, which allows organisations to register and protect the message headers used when sending text messages to their customers.

“The SMS SenderID Protection Registry is a tactical solution to mitigate smishing and spoofing, backed by MEF’s A2P SMS Code of Conduct,” said MEF’s COO, Joanne Lacey. “Through the Registry, the industry has been able to support the UK Government’s campaign and demonstrate the vital role of messaging not least in times of emergency and crisis.”

“Mobile companies work hard to protect their customers from fraud and the contribution from the industry to the Registry will help reduce the number of scam texts pretending to be from trusted brands,” said Mobile UK’s Head of Policy & Communications, Gareth Elliott. “This gives much-needed protection against fraud, including for the most vulnerable customers.”

“This trial builds on the success of an HMRC pilot, conducted with telecoms providers, which resulted in a 90% reduction in reports of the most convincing HMRC-branded SMS scams,” said Mike Fell, Head of Cyber Operations HM Revenue and Customs. “We are happy to collaborate with MEF and partners to take forward our work to safeguard the UK public from such SMS-related scams.”

“We are pleased to be supporting this experiment which is yielding promising results,” said Dr Ian Levy, Technical Director at the NCSC. “The UK Government’s recent mass-text campaign on Covid-19 has demonstrated the need for such industry collaboration in order to protect consumers from these kinds of scams.”

50 bank and Government brands, including 14 banks and Government agencies including HMRC and DVLA, are currently participating in the trial with 172 SenderIDs registered so far. Over 400 unauthorised variants are being blocked on an ever-growing blacklist, including 70 senderIDs relating to the Government’s Coronavirus campaign. The UK’s four MNO’s are also supporting the scheme.

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 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 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.

EE feels the sharp-end of the opt-in stick

EE is the latest firm to feel the rising wrath of the Information Commissioner’s Office as it is forced to cough up £100,000 for opt-in violations during 2018.

The messages, which were sent back in early 2018, encouraged customers to use a new feature but also to suggest device upgrades. EE claimed the communications were sent as ‘service messages’, but due to the presence of directing marketing, fell afoul of the guidance on electronic marketing put forward by the ICO.

“These were marketing messages which promoted the company’s products and services,” said Andy White, ICO Director of Investigations. “The direct marketing guidance is clear: if a message that contains customer service information also includes promotional material to buy extra products for services, it is no longer a service message and electronic marketing rules apply.

“EE Limited were aware of the law and should have known that they needed customers’ consent to send them in line with the direct marketing rules. Companies should be aware that texts and emails providing service information which also include a marketing or promotional element must comply with the relevant legislation or could face a fine up to £500,000.”

EE might feel a little bit hard-done by here, though it is a pretty clear violation of the rules.

As these messages contained prompts to earn EE a few extra quid each month, they clearly fall into the marketing category. EE would have to secured opt-in from these customers in the past, or in the case of ‘soft opt-in’, existing customers would have had to buy relevant products and given the opportunity to opt-out.

In this instance, the ICO accepted EE had not knowingly broken the rules, though as it did intentionally send out the emails it did not escape a fine. A second-batch of messages were sent out to those who didn’t engage with the first, which probably didn’t help the EE case.

Although this is a relatively minor fine, we expect to see a lot more of these investigations over the coming months. Rules around privacy and data protection are being toughened up, and the regulators need to be seen enforcing them. This fine might not be significant when you compare it to total revenues at the BT Group, but it is symbolic; we expect a few more of these ‘gestures’ sooner rather than later.

Verizon strengthens commercial messaging platform

After providing call filtering features for free, Verizon is going to update its commercial messaging platform to better protect customers.

Verizon announced that an updated commercial messaging platform will be launched within a month to improve the protection of users. “This new platform will improve spam protections while continuing to enable commercial providers of SMS text messages capacity at scale,” the carrier said in a statement.

The platform refers to Verizon’s “application to person” (A2P) messaging service that businesses can use to engage directly with consumers, e.g. for promotion, customer service, or consumer survey. Verizon did not disclose more details on how the improved security features will work other than that the “new platform uses a full 10-digit telephone number to help you recognize who is texting you”. However we can expect that this would be the first implementation of the RCS based messaging service that Verizon announced at the end of last year. So far, Verizon has been using its own proprietary A2P messaging technology.

Despite that OTT messaging services like WhtasApp and WeChat are gaining popularity whereas mobile operators are losing values through SMS, largely due to the rich features these OTT services can offer. However, the more features are integrated in these services the more they are open to abuse, e.g. spams and phishing attacks, which drives consumers to place more trust in SMS and RCS (coming in messaging format). RCS is a “clean channel”, not tarnished by the privacy scandals committed by Facebook and co, or the over monetisation by others, said the software company Mavenir at the recent Mobile World Congress. Research shared by Mavenir showed 97% of SMS / RCS are opened within 3 minutes.

Verizon’s new announcement on the improved security for messaging came shortly after the carrier made some features of its Call Filter app free to its postpaid users at the end of March. Used to cost $2.99 per month, now users can have Spam Detection, Spam Filter, and Report Numbers for free, while additional features will still come at a price. Verizon is playing catch-up to T-Mobile and others that have already provided free spam protection. It can also be read as responding to a call from Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, late year that demanded operators to “adopt a robust call authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing and launch that system no later than next year [2019]”.

Verizon Call Filter free vs. paid

You may be using RCS without even knowing 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.


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.