The RCS bandwagon has gained further momentum, with China's three big telcos jointly announcing plans for rich 5G messaging.
The telcos held an online press conference Wednesday to release a white paper on their proposal and to start selling the idea to potential partners.
The appeal to operators in China as elsewhere is obvious.
They can create a messaging service with equivalent functionality and ease-of-use to that of the big OTT services. They can also monetize it as an interactive digital marketing channel to brands.
China Telecom Vice President Wang Guoquan said the new 5G messaging services would enhance 5G innovation and help turn 5G from "the biggest variable affecting the telecom industry" into the biggest vehicle for growth.
He said China Telecom would work with industry partners "to build a new ecosystem and promote the rapid development of rich media information."
Besides the three operators, 11 device vendors including Huawei, Xiaomi, Vivo, Oppo and Samsung endorsed the new messaging service and promised early support on their handsets.
The question mark over the exercise is the long history of RCS – it goes back as far as 2008 – and its inability to fulfill its promise.
Its biggest problem has been that it requires consensus across a large and complex industry, while an OTT startup with a dozen staff can create a viral global app overnight.
For example, China Mobile and local device manufacturers have already launched RCS-enhanced SMS, but few users would be aware, let alone business partners.
The GSMA says the key development has been the creation of the universal profile (UP), an industry-agreed set of features intended to simplify RCS product development and deployment.
The Chinese players can also take heart from the positive numbers out of the first two years of the RCS-based +Message service in Japan, supported by all three operators.
User numbers rose 35% to 17.5 million in 2019 and are forecast to hit 40 million in 2021, according to a GSMA-commissioned study.
The number of business messages sent over the platform is expected to reach more than 150 million in 2021 and 1.2 billion in 2023.
What's more, users appear responsive to the marketing messages. The open rate is 85% in Japan and 75% globally, compared to 3% for direct mail.
Says the GSMA: "+Message also allows Japanese consumers to communicate directly with a range of brands and services, for example allowing them to engage with virtual assistants to book flights, buy goods and make restaurant reservations."
Worldwide, the GSMA says 88 operators have launched with RCS, attracting 403 million users.
Messaging research firm MobileSquared has predicted that RCS will be the world's biggest business messaging platform by 2021, with 2 billion users.
It notes that while WhatsApp has 1.5 billion users, it may be difficult to monetize it as a marketing channel because users are required to opt in.
— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading