Solyman Ashrafi has a message for startups building communications services: "Your days are numbered."
It's fair to say the mobile industry has been more than a little slow moving on building out rich communications services (RCS), but once they go mainstream, Ashrafi, the vice president of product development at MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS), now part of T-Mobile US Inc. , predicts the Silicon Valley app upstarts will evaporate.
Once RCS is established, "You won't see these startups coming up with these communications solutions because they won't be needed," he predicted in a recent presentation.
RCS is a GSM Association (GSMA) initiative, marketed as Joyn, to build ubiquitous mobile communications services based on the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) core network. More than just one standard, it has the ability to mash up a number of standards to, for example, add video a job recruitment app or integrate presence into chat. The key to all of this is that it works across networks, regardless of device, operating system, or service provider.
More than 70 operators have committed to it, with the most traction coming from Europe, but there hasn't been much significant momentum to date. MetroPCS, also the pioneer of LTE and voice-over LTE (VoLTE), introduced a RCS-powered communication service, Jibe, but, ironically, it's been limited to its own network. Its future is still somewhat unclear now that the carrier has been acquired by T-Mobile. (See MetroPCS Intros Video Chat with RCS.)
MetroPCS originally said it would roll out with other carriers later this year, enabling WiFi calling, video calling, enhanced instant messaging, and simplified content sharing across networks, but a spokesman now says that, "We don’t have any updates to share about Jibe right now and are evaluating future plans for RCS services."
The slow-moving nature of the market is why so many startups have emerged in the first place. The consumer expectation is that they can connect with anyone they wish via a group chat, video call, or other medium on any device and from any location. Startups like WhatsApp, Viber, and Line were formed to fill these gaps.
Some of these OTT apps are really good, too, so why does Ashfari think operators can do it better? He says it comes down to quality. OTTs don’t have access to lower-layer protocols to achieve quality of service. Their apps cannot offer a seamless experience, because that requires integration from the chipset, to the OS, to the apps, directly in the handset.
When (or if) RCS makes its way to more handsets, it will be pervasive. At least that's what MetroPCS is working toward. It doesn't plan to leave the startups behind, or rather not the ones that are really good. Ashfari said it will team up with them to improve their quality and leverage their app ecosystems in the process.
"There are hundreds of messaging and video apps, but none of them talk to each other," he said. "Users are confused on which ones are better. A lot of these companies in Silicon Valley will evaporate. The ones that will remain are the ones we will collaborate with to make sure our RCS connects to the top 10 RCS OTTs."
— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading