Rich communications services (RCS) isn't exactly top-of-mind in today's 5G-focused wireless industry. But the service, which was originally introduced by the GSMA in 2008 as an upgrade to legacy short messaging services and multimedia messaging services, is experiencing a revival in the US thanks to a new Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) formed by Sprint, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
The CCMI joint venture was announced last week at the MWC Los Angeles trade show. The group is working on a messaging service based on the GSMA's RCS standard and plans to introduce a messaging app that supports the RCS standard for Android phones in 2020. RCS was initially developed as an operator response to over-the-top (OTT) messaging options like WhatsApp and iMessage, services that quickly and effectively stole the revenues operators were making from charging for text messaging. Now operators are looking at RCS as a way to make money from businesses interacting with customers through RCS.
According to Doug Garland, general manager of CCMI, the group was formed because consumers want to communicate with businesses and brands through messaging rather than by making a phone call. "Carriers realized that business and consumers want to interact, but we need a platform that works for both consumers and businesses," Garland says. "We came together to have a consistent implementation and consistent standards and bring forward an experience that consumers don't have to worry about."
Lynnette Luna, principal analyst with GlobalData, says that there are a lot of big brands that are interested in RCS. "It will be a big deal if all four carriers launch this," Luna says. "Brands really want to do it because it offers a richer graphical interface and that makes customers want to engage with the brand."
Luna adds that Vodafone has been particularly successful with RCS. "They have a lot of case studies that show that engagement with brands grew."
According to the GSMA, 81 operators globally have launched RCS, including the four US operators that are part of the CCMI. Another 21 operators are expected to launch the service in the first quarter of 2020.
The CCMI implementation will support all of the features available in the RCS standard including the ability to handle high-resolution photos and attachments. It will also be compatible with the RCS standard adopted by other operators around the world.
What this means for Apple and Google
So why did the U.S. operators need to form CCMI and develop an app? Garland says that the US carriers want RCS to be tightly integrated with their core networks. That close integration with the network is what makes the CCMI's RCS implementation different from Google's existing RCS messaging app. Google has been an advocate for RCS and has been pushing carriers to adopt it. But Garland says the difference is that Google's messaging app is a cloud-based implementation and the CCMI members want an RCS implementation that is integrated into their IP multimedia subsystem (IMS) deployment.
Apple is not involved with the CCMI but the group hopes the iPhone vendor will support its RCS-based app when it's available. "We are hoping that in time Apple will also support RCS as it has VoLTE," Garland says.
He adds that when the CCMI releases its Android-based app it could be offered through Apple's App Store but it will still need to have support from Apple so the app downloaded on Apple devices can interact with the network.
Luna says that she believes that the CCMI will need to have its RCS app preloaded on the device at the point-of-sale for it to be successful. "The old implementations of RCS in Europe didn't do well because people had to go find it in an app store," she said.
— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.