Last week at the Mobile World Congress (MWC), there was one announcement that stood out from others: Global operators, Google and the GSMA will adopt Rich Communication Services (RCS), augmenting mobile communication as we know it.
With RCS, your mobile phone would natively provide the features that are currently only offered by OTT applications such as Skype, Whatsapp and Facebook messenger. The kind of features we're talking about are group chat, HD voice and video, file sharing and an enhanced address book, enriched with presence information.
Thanks to the acquisition of RCS software and infrastructure developer Jibe in September 2015, Google would integrate RCS functionality in the Android mobile operating system. Although RCS has been around since 2008, there have been very limited commercial RCS deployments to date, notwithstanding the limited trials that several operators have done over the last couple of years.
What's at stake?
For mobile operators, rolling out RCS services would enable them to win back market share and associated revenues in communication services that they've previously lost to OTT providers. While mobile operators only provide voice calling and SMS messaging, OTTs offer an extensive set of features at a fraction of the cost. For Google, collaborating with mobile operators on RCS would result in a bigger push on Android phones, rather than iPhones, which would surely be a nasty shock for Apple. In addition, Google's take on OTT communication services (Google Talk, Hangouts) has been substantially less successful than that of Apple (Facetime) or Facebook (Messenger and Whatsapp).
Will they be able to pull it off?
Making RCS a success is a gigantic project, with a lot of complexity.
These are the potential showstoppers:
Mobile operators have historically had a preference for building direct interconnections with other mobile operators, and only using these hubs for a limited amount of the business. This means that they would need to upgrade hundreds of these interconnections to support RCS, which is an enormous task. In addition, this work would have to be done over a limited period of time while maintaining interoperability with the existing voice and SMS services. A long transition time would kill the user experience and prevent the network effect from playing its role.
An alternative is to migrate bilateral interconnections to hubs; wholesale telecommunication providers have had their RCS-compatible interconnection services ready for a while, thanks to industry working groups such as i3forum.org.
It's obvious that pulling off RCS will be a huge challenge but considering that the driving force behind this initiative is a group of Internet and telecom giants, they might just do it. What is sure is that this will be a very interesting initiative to keep track of in the following months and years.
— Dries Plasman, VP of Product Management, Voxbone SA