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Sprint Plots RCS-Laden Path to VoLTE

Sarah Thomas
10/15/2013
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Sprint is working its way toward building an all-IP messaging portal alongside voice-over LTE (VoLTE), and it sees offering rich communication services (RCS) as the first step in that direction.

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) hasn't announced exactly when it will deploy VoLTE, but Wayne Ward, the carrier's vice president of business and product development, describes the carrier's partnership with Jibe Mobile to offer a white labeled over-the-top (OTT) messaging and video app as phase one in its move to an all-IP messaging portal. What the next couple of phases entail isn't exactly clear either, but the end goal is a VoLTE service that includes voice and data on a single platform. (See Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms.) Wayne told us:

As we roll out LTE and VoLTE becomes the platform underneath IP messaging, this will be the same basic experience we'll need for an IP core for VoLTE. It's an over-the-top, cloud-based client on the phone, not pure IP messaging, but the user experience and attributes will be similar to it. This is step one and complementary and feeding into our VoLTE strategy.

Sprint plans to "bootstrap" the Jibe app, rebranded Messaging Plus, on future devices beginning in the fourth quarter. Right now Wayne says it's only a marketing and distribution partnership, but he didn't rule out offering quality of service for the app in the future. Sprint's aim is just to get it in customer hands, find out what works, and add services as they go.

That includes not just adding services to the Jibe tie-up but potentially adding new OTT options as well. If the right provider and the right deal came along, Sprint might even be open to acquiring an innovative OTT app, Wayne says, but not without adding that it's had its hands full with network-related acquisitions of late. (See Sprint Axes More Clearwire Employees and Softbank Closes on Sprint Acquisition.)

Sprint is also mulling building its own internal RCS-style apps, and it's still supporting its Google Voice partnership, which lets its customers use their mobile phone numbers as their Google Voice digits. (See CTIA 2011: Sprint's Google Voice Gamble.)

"Right now, we're committed to Jibe for our phase one RCS deployment," Wayne says. "We'll make decisions around the roadmap we deploy for our IMS and IP messaging core -- if we continue to use a partner like Jibe or internalize apps, a roadmap is still under development for the future."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/15/2013 | 12:54:12 PM
Re: RCS's Relevance
To date that hasn't stopped alternative voice providers such as Skype from taking international long distance revenue whenever it was possible and artificial barriers weren't  put up ,nor has it stopped straight messaging from being invaded first by BBM and later KIK, Whatsapp and ofcourse Apple's iMessage and Google's Hangouts.

The only real market I can see is for enterprises when combined with a PBX system, but even they are becoming increasingly price sensitive.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/15/2013 | 12:33:54 PM
Re: RCS's Relevance
People probably care less about quality when a service is free, but I think it does matter for voice calls and, especially video calls. Not that cellular calls are that great, but some of my experiences with Skype and other services have been less than ideal. If all the features are essentially the same, how does any player differentiate? Ubiquity and simplicity are really all that matter.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/15/2013 | 11:50:39 AM
Re: RCS's Relevance
That's an interesting operator spin that suits their narrative, but I would look for neutral 3rd party data that corroborates the claim that QoS is a real issue for OTT customers.

If it's simply spinning a yarn, the only ones that lose are the carrier's as they invest big on a distraction to little gain. They might be better off ignoring RCS and investing it in more realistic and promising opportunities.

If they don't know what they are have them call me anytime :)
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/15/2013 | 11:40:05 AM
Re: RCS's Relevance
Good points, Mordy. I shall raise them today on my panel with AT&T, T-Mobile and Comast. :)

Another way it could change the dynamic -- and this might not work in operators' favor -- is that it evens the playing field with quality. Operators have dismissed OTT as unreliable compared to the PSTN, but we'll be able to see how the various services fare on the same network. The operators will have to do more to set their service apart.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/15/2013 | 10:59:04 AM
Re: RCS's Relevance
While LTE changes alot of things, I question how much i changes the carrier/OTT dynamic. The time to market from feature recognition to actual deployment over an individual or multiple carrier's will always be significantly longer than for an OTT app such as Whatsapp, and the customers that will lead the charge in using these services are doing that over OTT.

As you well know I recognize the value of carrier ubiquity but that value shrinks when it moves beyond simply products to those more advances functionalities, as those users are pretty much all going OTT. Kinda reminds me of my early Skype years when all the people I needed Skype to communicate also had the need and largely signed up within 6 months.
Sarah Thomas
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Sarah Thomas,
User Rank: Blogger
10/15/2013 | 10:45:08 AM
Re: RCS's Relevance
i think that's a fair question, Mordy. They are responding the meteoric rise of OTT, but then, it's already risen! The dynamics will change a bit on LTE, however, when everything is IP based and VoLTE services become richer.
MordyK
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MordyK,
User Rank: Light Sabre
10/15/2013 | 8:56:31 AM
RCS's Relevance
I wonder if this is too little too late, as customers are now used to going OTT for their messaging needs and carriers will always be a step behind OTT apps in terms of innovative functionality. I understand why Sprint is only entering the foray now,so this is no reflection on them per-se, but at the end of the day the reason for this delayed entry and the carrier's lack of required relevance may be too much to overcome.
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