If you’ve been in the communications business as long as I have, you’ve been hearing about the promise of Rich Communication Services (RCS)—or joyn or Jio4GVoice or Message+—for nearly a decade. And it offered a compelling proposition: under the GSMA’s stewardship and with the collaboration of telecom carriers around the world, this messaging protocol was going to replace the ubiquitous SMS messaging standard with one that enabled rich multimedia messaging and leveraged the full feature set of modern smartphones. Many in the market—particularly we who have a business stake in communications—were intrigued by, and even optimistic about, the types of messaging experiences that RCS could enable.
But a decade is a long time to maintain optimism when a promise doesn’t materialize—in any endeavor, let alone in the rapidly evolving landscape of the technology industry. While the GSMA and participating carriers crawled toward a single RCS standard, milestone events were shaking up the messaging market around them. Apple introduced its iMessage service in 2011, allowing iOS device users to send each other unlimited messages with text, photos and video over a Wi-Fi or cellular data connection. The service—one of a few over-the-top (OTT) messenger apps that launched in the 2010-2011 timeframe—enabled users to bypass the text message fees that cellular carriers were charging at the time. Today, the biggest messenger apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, WeChat and Line—have hundreds of millions of monthly active users, according to a BI Intelligence report, and carriers have been watching their consumer SMS revenues shrink.
For these and other sound reasons I don’t need to rehash here, many observers have written obituaries for RCS over the years. As recently as February 13, Dean Bubley shoveled more dirt on the standard in his LinkedIn analysis of RCS messaging, referring to it as a “decade-old failed … ‘zombie’ service.” His strong words reflect the sentiment of many in the industry who have long since lost faith in the ability of carriers to bring RCS to market.
Is Google Jibe the RCS Lifeline?
In February 2016, RCS gained a powerful commercial ally with the resources and clout to help it finally realize its promise: Google. A number of carriers, the GSMA, and Google launched an initiative to establish a universal profile based on RCS specifications and to make an initial RCS messaging product available to Android users. In the 12 months since the announcement, more carriers and OEMs have gotten onboard and Google has launched the RCS-ready Messenger app for Android users (recently renamed Android Messages). Google now has put significant investment behind RCS, with Android Messages, it’s Jibe Cloud product, which offers carriers managed RCS services on Google-hosted infrastructure, and an RCS interconnect solution for carriers called the Jibe Hub.
The question skeptics will ask is whether these efforts will attract messaging consumers. Android users are already messaging via Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for the reasons I mentioned previously. Android Messages faces an adoption challenge in trying to have either existing users switch or new users choose the native messaging app—when it becomes widely available across all the carriers, that is—over the OTT alternatives.
And I haven’t mentioned the iOS installed base happily using iMessage, who are not even in the scope of the RCS initiative. I imagine many pundits will remain skeptical when considering RCS for person-to-person (P2P) messaging among consumers. But the RCS offering is much more interesting when applied to commercial application-to-person (A2P) messaging.
The RCS Opportunity for Enterprises
Even as consumers abandoned carrier SMS services for OTT apps, A2P SMS messaging has remained a vibrant business communication channel. According to Transparency Market Research, global A2P SMS market revenue was US$57.27 bn in 2015 and is expected to reach US$83.03 bn by 2024. Much of that growth has been spurred by CPaaS (communications platform as a service) providers like Vonage’s Nexmo, empowering developers and enterprises to build vital business communication mechanisms on A2P SMS messaging. Two-factor authentication, promotional campaigns, interactive services, and inquiry-related services are all examples of A2P SMS messaging, and industries from retail to travel and transport to hospitality all still deliver large numbers of SMS messages around the world via the carriers.
For those enterprises who have leveraged SMS to communicate with their customers, the plain text format has been an acceptable limitation in exchange for a universal communication channel. But RCS can enhance the business messaging experience well beyond what SMS or even MMS offer. Just to list a few key enhancements:
- RCS supports multiple message formats, allowing businesses to send not just text but video, animations, and images as well, all in one message
- Unlike SMS, RCS messages return read receipts by default, which is useful data for monitoring the effectiveness of the communication.
- It will have two-way messaging built in, eliminating the need for businesses to acquire short codes or long virtual numbers to facilitate that type of communication. RCS can connect directly to CRM systems, contact centers, or custom backends.
- It enables more interactive calls to action than SMS. For example, messages can contain one-click opt-outs, customer surveys, and real-time updates. Imagine an airline delivering a full, multimedia check-in experience within an RCS chat message, complete with boarding passes, visual flight updates, and on-demand terminal maps.
Overall, RCS offers a much richer medium for businesses. With CPaaS ensuring reliable, high-quality message delivery, the protocol can unlock engaging new customer experiences for innovative enterprises. And carriers can recoup the decade-long investment they have sunk into RCS and offset some of the erosion they have suffered to consumer revenue due to the emergence of over-the-top apps by reaping RCS A2P revenue.
While consumer adoption for RCS as a P2P service may be a challenge, this push by Google should be exciting news for brands who want a richer A2P channel to connect with their customers.