It's one small step for RCS, but one giant leap for OTT, as Jibe Mobile announces Thursday that Deutsche Telekom will be the first operator to use its Hub, just one day after Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp. (See Facebook to Acquire WhatsApp for $16B.)
RCS, or rich communication services, has been talked about for a long time as a way for operators to regain relevancy in an increasingly over-the-top (OTT) world. Backed by the GSM Association (GSMA) , RCS is advanced communications services built on an IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) backbone, including video calling, presence, photo sharing, and enhanced messaging.
The biggest impediment to its success has been that it requires operators to interoperate with each other, something they haven't been keen on doing. Jibe Mobile said Thursday that it has signed up Deutsche Telekom AG (NYSE: DT) as the first operator to support its Hub for interconnecting with other operators. The Hub will get a lot more exciting the more operators that join up, but this is a step in the right direction.
"More activity on the over-the-top front fuels the story on this side for us," Jibe Mobile CEO Amir Sarhangi tells Light Reading (the day before Facebook 's big OTT buy, certainly adding even more fuel to the flames). "It encourage carriers to move faster as they want to have services to compete with OTT players."
Jibe and operators see the biggest differentiator between RCS and OTT as the fact that RCS is a native experience. It doesn't require an app download, registering, or finding friends. It just works and lets users connect to anyone in the world (in theory). It's not asking them to leave the legacy experience, Sarhangi says, it's just adding to it in the form of new icons next to compatible users in the address book.
Until more operators support RCS, Sarhangi says the Hub will connect users on unsupported networks through its public cloud as an interim, albeit less graceful, experience. DT will be demoing the interconnect capabilities at Mobile World Congress with Orange (NYSE: FTE).
"There's a good reason the Hub is there today," Sarhangi says. "There's a real need for it, but it's useless if no one wants to connect to it. We have 26 operators in 20 countries deploying RCS services, so they need to interconnect, including across regions for their own customers."
Jibe is also announcing that Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) will preload its white-labeled OTT app on most of its Android devices and promote it more aggressively in Sprint stores. The two announced a deal to promote the app in October, and preloading is the next step. The eventual goal, Sarhangi says, is to make it a native experience right from the dialer. There is much more to come from Sprint, he says. (See Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms and Sprint Plots RCS-Laden Path to VoLTE .)
While RCS slowly builds momentum, operators in the US and Europe are working hard on deploying voice-over LTE (VoLTE) in parallel. The Jibe CEO says to think of RCS and VoLTE as separately as messaging and voice. The life cycles are totally different, and the need for improved messaging is more urgent, he says. WebRTC is another tech developing alongside both, and Sarhangi says all Jibe's end points are also capable of doing browser-based calling via WebRTC.
"We're a new breed of infrastructure company, all about software, and we believe telcos are quickly moving to be much more about software than hardware," he says, adding that he didn't realize how fast virtualization was happening until recently speaking with carriers. "How do you enable carriers to move faster on new services without dependency on their network? That's where the difference will be."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading