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Mavenir, T-Mobile Confirm US RCS Launches

Sarah Thomas
3/4/2015

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress 2015 -- Launches of rich communication services (RCS), the operators' long-discussed answer to WhatsApp, are now imminent in the US, executives from T-Mobile and Mavenir have confirmed this week.

The GSM Association (GSMA) -supported technology that brings services such as video calling, presence, group chats and file sharing native to the device has seen a lot of false starts and hype, but it's finally going to happen in the US in 2015. T-Mobile US Inc. Vice President of Engineering and Quality Assurance Grant Castle told Light Reading last week that the carrier would be launching RCS in the near future, and Mavenir Systems Inc. President and CEO Pardeep Kohli confirmed today that other big operators would follow suite. (See Q&A: The Castle in T-Mobile's LTE Network and T-Mobile Plans Small Cells as Niche Play.)

"RCS is soon, very soon," Castle told Light Reading in a pre-show interview. "VoLTE was the baseline on that and was the most difficult. We worked hard to move it forward. We're taking those learnings for RCS and video calling and similar services."

Mavenir's Kohli lent weight to those comments, telling reporters today that all of the big four would be launching RCS this year. His company, which Mitel Networks Corp. announced it was acquiring on Monday, provides RCS, voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), voice-over-WiFi (VoWiFi) and session border controllers (SBCs) for wireless operators. It powers VoLTE and messaging for T-Mobile, messaging for AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and "some apps" that Kohli wouldn't disclose for Verizon Wireless and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). (See Mitel to Acquire Mavenir for $560M.)

"Everyone is ready now; devices just need to get ready," Kohli said.

Most Android devices, including Samsung Corp. 's Galaxy S6, are compatible today, but the one big elephant in the room, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), does not yet support it in the iPhone. He expects Apple to come around soon, but stressed he doesn't have insider info on the Cupertino giant's plans. (See Samsung Dials Up RCS for VoLTE.)

When the operators do launch RCS, Kohli said the services would all be tied to a user's phone numbers, unlike Sprint's current iteration of RCS via a preloaded Jibe Mobile app. But, he said, don't expect the services to work across carriers. They will be siloed at first, like VoLTE. Once operators work out IP peering agreements -- something the optimistic CEO also expects to happen this year -- RCS interoperability will follow. (See Sprint Jibes With OTT Comms and AT&T LTE Roams to 13 More Countries.)

Interoperability is something others are working towards too, including Jibe Mobile, which announced more operators participating in its Hub interconnection service at MWC this year. (See Jibe Hub, Fring Alliance & More RCS Action at MWC and Deutsche Telekom Outlines Its RCS Evolution .)


For more on operator's RCS strategies, check out the VoLTE/rich communications content channel here on Light Reading.


In other "it's going to happen this year" news from Mavenir, Kohli said the company will announce its first cable customer for VoWiFi in 2015. He wouldn't say which one, but he did call out Comcast as having talked about doing VoWiFi and noted that Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), which offers the Freewheel WiFi service, is not a current customer. (See Mavenir Launches VoWiFi for Cable, Comcast Weighs WiFi Plans and Cablevision's New WiFi Try – Freewheeling Enough?)

He also touched on the Mitel acquisition in the press Q&A, which sounds like much more of an expansion play for Mitel than an acquisition that yields a lot of synergies. Mitel serves the enterprise market, while Mavenir is squarely focused on service providers. For Mavenir, Kohli said the deal will help it scale globally and compete against the likes of Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) and Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), but he does think there are opportunities to bring Mitel's unified communications capabilities to mobile phones.

"We'll be able to synergize on a number of things that happened in the enterprise 10 year ago but haven't happened on phones yet," he said. "There's no reason these functions can't come native in the phone."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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sarahthomas1011
sarahthomas1011
3/9/2015 | 11:54:53 AM
Re: RCS in the USA
I agree with you all that interoperability will be important, but it's not really a deal breaker. In messaging, for example, if someone you're calling doesn't have RCS, it will just default to SMS. If they do, you'll see the option to send a cloud message or do group chat or video. A lack of interoperability won't degrade the service; it'll just keep it status quo. 

I would agree that no one would use it or care if we're talking standalone apps, but once RCS is in the native dialer, it will be just a nice-to-have service.
jya
jya
3/9/2015 | 1:54:39 AM
Re: RCS in the USA
Very true...I was involved with IMS trials/releases almost 10 years ago ....and the use cases are still not a reality in every day life. Carrier inter-op is key, and I think is quite a few markets, intra-carrier seamless connectivity also leaves much to be desired.
milan03
milan03
3/4/2015 | 6:46:02 PM
Re: RCS in the USA
I think both of you nailed it.

Unlike VoLTE which leverages QCI 1 prioritization RCS will be another "best effort" solution, much like OTT offerings. Even without the obvious challenges it's going to be pretty tough for wireless operators to figure out the right business proposition and monetize.
mhhf1ve
mhhf1ve
3/4/2015 | 4:21:11 PM
Re: RCS in the USA
TablaRasa,  You got it. Carrier interoperability is KEY. That's probably why Apple isn't ready to support it - because Apple knows that the user experience will be terrible if it doesn't "just work" with any other mobile device. 

Plus, is this a carrier solution to a problem that doesn't really exist for users? What can you do with RCS that you can't already do with 3rd party apps/services?
TablaRasa
TablaRasa
3/4/2015 | 1:51:21 PM
Re: RCS in the USA
I think that the RCS skepticism is healthy, even now, despite what Mavenir/Mitel is hinting. There is a critical mass barrier for RCS to take off. Not only do the devices need to support it, but the carrier interoperability HAS to be there for anyone other than the first adopters to use this service.

People's expectation for RCS, if it's the carrier that's offering it, is that they can contact anyone by the phone number, via RCS, and expect it to work, regardless of which carrier that the other person is using, and which device that the other person's phone number is associated to. The analog is of course SMS.

But until this critical mass builds, it'll be VERY hard for carriers to get any real benefits from RCS.
sarahthomas1011
sarahthomas1011
3/4/2015 | 8:19:10 AM
RCS in the USA
There are a lot of people who are still skeptical about about RCS, especially in the US. It's taken off much more in Europe. But, Mavenir's Kohli has called it before on VoLTE launches, so I'd trust his word on RCS launches as well. It makes sense as an evolution of VoLTE now that all have -- or will soon have -- IMS rolled out. 
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