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RCS? Everyone Just Needs to Calm Down

Sounds a lot like a song! (Apologies to Taylor).

But truly, over the last week or two, with announcements coming from the US Big Four Mobile Operators about the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (or CCMI) and then Google’s launching of “Google Guest,” all I’m seeing are breathless, inaccurate, and highly subjective stories about Google (or the carriers) “blindsiding” the other! (As an aside, note that with both announcements, I’ve linked both to stories on The Verge – the best researched and most informed in my opinion).

But the misinformation needs to stop. Many of the authors of these news stories just don’t know what they are talking about and totally blow the RCS announcements out of proportion. Let’s get some perspective on these and maybe try to help everyone align.

The CCMI Announcement

About a month ago the US mobile operators (carriers for US folks) announced the formation of the CCMI. Not a lot of information was available at the announcement time, but that they indicated:

“To enable the service, the CCMI joint venture is working to develop and deploy the standards-based, interoperable messaging service starting with Android and expected in 2020. Working with its carrier ownership group and other companies in the RCS ecosystem, the CCMI service will:

  • 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 favorite 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”

This is extraordinarily good news. This means that the US carriers are actively engaged to bring RCS to their subscribers – starting with Android in 2020. Several carriers already support Business RCS Messaging or RBM. Earlier this month, Synchronoss also announced that they were providing some of the technology for CCMI. Certainly, US carriers have already invested in RCS (based on the GSMA Universal Profile standards) by incorporating infrastructure in their networks from Google, Samsung, and Mavenir (at least). Some of this technology may be a unified API layer as well as other infrastructure capabilities beyond that which the other RCS vendors provide. Synchronoss was heavily involved in the successful launch cross-carrier RCS in Japan and hope to help the US carriers repeat that success.

This does mean that the US carriers will likely provide at least an Android app to be pre-loaded on devices from the carriers. Does that mean that existing RCS Messaging apps such as Android Messages or Samsung Messages will become obsolete? Not likely. All RCS messaging clients on Android should work, regardless of the backend RCS solution the carrier is using.

While details aren’t certain, it is likely that CCMI will also support cross-carrier messaging as well as a unified Messaging as a Platform (or MaaP) API for the brands and businesses to connect, which is typically done through Messaging Aggregators, who provide a number of value-added capabilities such as chatbots, management of multiple carrier connections, reporting, and more. A robust A2P RCS or RBM platform is paramount for the carriers as this is where they can make money on RCS.

For subscribers, this is just “texting” (or “Chat” as Google sometimes calls it); they should expect no changes to their text billing, which in many cases, is now unlimited and bundled with their voice or data.

So again, I believe this is a good step.

Now onto Google and Google Guest.

US carriers were certainly not “blindsided” by Google’s announcement and neither was Google by CCMI. Note that the CCMI announcement did include an RFP (which obviously Synchronoss won) and I highly suspect Google was part of that, as were other RCS vendors.

The Google (Jibe group) has been a strong advocate for RCS since they first announced their RCS initiatives in 2016. Since then, many carriers have launched RCS through the Google Jibe cloud solutions. In the US, its Sprint, US Cellular and Google’s own Google Fi MNVO all running Google Jibe solutions as part of their back-end RCS infrastructure. There are also many other mobile operators in other countries doing the same.

In July of this year, Google announced that it was enabling subscribers in the UK and France the ability to use RCS, independent of their mobile operator – essentially, RCS is functioning as an OTT Messaging app. Google noted that it was actually asked to create Google Guest by the mobile operators to help plug the gaps in a particular market (source: Mobilesquared).

Once a mobile operator’s own RCS solution comes into play, the subscriber will be handed back to the mobile operator. Most likely, the subscriber won’t even have to do any changes in the messaging client – it will happen seamlessly. Instead of being an OTT messaging application (running RCS), it becomes a mobile operator RCS messaging application. So, Google Guest is a temporary solution – probably no more than 18 months (say to December 2020); but one that can help boost subscriber uptake and RCS acceptance. From Google’s point of view, they want to see RCS succeed. Google claims they don’t necessarily need to be a “winner,” but to see RCS succeed against the non-standard-based-messaging chat apps (or OTTs).

The analyst firm Mobilesquared estimates that Google Guest in the UK may have expanded the UK RCS user base by 72.7% by the end of October 2019. In France that is estimated to be around 64.8%.

So, it was no surprise that Google announces Google Guest for the United States on November 14th. Were the US carriers “blindsided?” Highly unlikely. They likely welcomed this, because, if the results in the UK and France are any indication, then it should further help jump-start the RCS ecosystem for a region or country.

Mobilesquared notes that this is an acceleration period, although it won’t have an appreciate effect on brand/business spending for RBM. But they note, it will “expedite the point at which brands are comfortable paying for RCS campaigns.” When Google Guest ends (say when CCMI comes to play in the US), there should be agreements in place between Google and the Mobile Operator to insure the experience is of “comparable quality.”

So again, for the US market, Google Guest will improve the overall RCS uptake until the carriers roll it out. But don’t forget that many Android subscribers on Sprint and US Cellular and even AT&T already enjoy some of the RCS benefits. Those benefits will only increase as more US Android subscribers start using enhanced chat or RCS.

What About the iPhone Users and What’s Next?

There’s been a lot of speculation as to if and when Apple will support RCS as part of iMessage. To be honest, at this point, we just don’t know. There is additional speculation that any device that uses the 5G brand should support RCS.  Apple has about a 15% market share globally, but in some markets like the United States, it is around 50%. The GSMA have previously indicated that they have been in discussions with Apple about supporting Universal Profile RCS.

Obviously, this would be huge for the RCS standard if UP 2.x+ would be supported in iMessage. I am of the opinion that an RCS-enabled iMessage would be well-received by consumers and brands alike. No longer would brands have to worry about reaching only a portion of their markets, based on whether or not subscribers were iOS or Android users. And I don’t think it would really interfere with or be in conflict with Apple Business Chat, which is more of a P2A type of interface. I believe that RCS Business Messaging would have little spam or phishing attempts, as the ecosystem is being built with significant controls.

Potentially, the CCMI by the US carriers could be a catalyst to further convince Apple that RCS is not just a Google-driven initiative, but an industry-wide, standards-based initiative that should be supported by all handset OEMs.

The bottom line of all of these announcements is that RCS is not a hot mess, but a well-though out advance toward a more sustainable, operator and industry supported messaging ecosystem.

 

 

 

 

 

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