RCS-e : the Empire strikes back !!

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Think about this : The combined market capitalization of the top OTT players, including Google, Facebook, and Apple (counting only Apple Music’s contribution to its value), as well as companies such as WhatsApp, Netflix, and Skype, is currently around seven times their total 2014 revenues, whereas for the telecom industry, that multiple is less than two. Meanwhile, the global telecom industry has invested some US$354 billion into maintaining, building, and upgrading its networks in 2014 — an enormous expense that the OTT companies do not have as yet and may never have !! It is high time for Telcos to take action to win back the customers love by providing Rich Messaging services.

With the unprecedented success of players such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and WeChat, it is becoming increasingly clear that these apps are using communications services to anchor the development of other services (e.g. around media sharing, payments, and utilities) which can help grow the user base of these apps and keep users highly engaged. In its forthcoming OTT Messaging Forecast, Ovum estimates there will be around 2.4 billion unique monthly active users of OTT communications apps globally by 2020. These users will generate about 65 trillion text, photo, and video messages annually.

This year, more than twenty global operators convened at MWC Barcelona and made an agreement to advance Rich Communications Services (RCS). It’s a new initiative that will enable these operators to provide an open and interoperable messaging service across Android devices from all over the world. The operators joining this project include the following: Google, GSMA, Vodafone, Telstra, Deutsche Telekom, América Móvil, Etisalat, Bharti Airtel Ltd, KPN, Globe Telecom, Smart Communications, Millicom, KPN, MTN, Orange, PLAY, Telenor Group, TIM, Vimpelcom, Turkcell, and TeliaSonera.

The idea is that with the RCS, these operators can work on a more consistent and reliable global messaging service. Research conducted by one operator discovered a direct link between the penetration rate of cross-platform messaging services and the reduction of outgoing SMS traffic. Without RCS, the decline of voice messaging is likely to be next, as consumers increasingly engage with alternative IP based voice solutions.RCS and RCS-e are based on service/capability discovery and use the IMS infrastructure and SIP protocol. IMS is an architectural framework for delivering multimedia services. It decouples the applications from the access method, so that the same functionality can be accessed over wireless (3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi) as well as fixed networks.

The commercial specification for RCS were designed and specified by leading global operators based on clear market requirements and a deep understanding gathered from previous and service based trials about what works and doesn’t work –in essence RCS is built by the industry for the industry. Native to the device –‘it’s just there’ –it gives users access to enriched services quickly and easily, simply by selecting from the multimedia capabilities in chat, file share or video share that are shown for each of their contacts.

Rich Communications is the service upgrade that will transition SMS and voice capabilities from Circuit Switched technology to an all-IP world, including VoLTE. Rich Communications and VoLTE share the same IMS investment because both are built using the same IMS technology, and leverage the same IMS capabilities. The creation of IPX Interconnect Hubs for RCS reduces the number of interconnections Operators have to make to achieve full interworking, as well as reducing the time, cost and complexity of achieving interconnection.

Investment in Rich Messaging core infrastructure can lead to some very specific operator monetization opportunities and help to justify the business case. There are certain services such as High Definition (HD) voice/vide sharing, advanced geo-location services that could be charged on a per transaction basis to increase ARPU from both post and pre-paid data subscribers.In the core network the Mobile Operators have aligned on the IMS ( Internet Multimedia Subsystem ) to deliver VoLTE services. VoLTE’s extention into real time video and related Rich media and collaboration services only serves to emphasise the importance of QoS , call admission control an session management inherent to the LTE architecture.

Telcos have the opportunity to take the lead in the IP communication services area and drive the market forward with the deployment of LTE networks. Convergence is key: voice and data communication services will need to be established across   different devices and locations. WebRTC, which supports browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat and P2P file sharing, is one technology that comes from the OTT world and that telcos can leverage in this way. Value propositions are numerous over standardized APIs, extending rich messaging reach beyond enabled devices thanks to gateways that sit in the network next to Joyn servers (NetAPI, WebRTC). Examples of third-party applications and services with strong market traction include: collaborative business tools, call center apps, gaming, mobile learning, mobile marketing and social networking.

Deutsche Telekom has been a long-time supporter of the GSMA RCS standard for advanced communications, deploying Joyn, the customer-facing brand, last year and joining  Jibe Mobile’s Hub to interoperate with other carriers doing the same. In 2016, DT and the GSMA will turn their attention to video calling, which they believe will go mainstream soon. Unlike the US operators that see RCS as a bolt-on to voice-over-LTE, DT wants to use it to bridge the time until VoLTE is in a stable environment in Europe. That means that video will work properly on LTE and both parties will have solid coverage to maintain VoLTE calls.

Last July, T-Mobile launched Advanced Messaging, which offers improved text messaging with features like delivery and read receipts and support for sending larger attachments. Fast-forward to today and we’ve now got an idea of how much Advanced Messaging is actually being used. T-Mobile today said that more than 5.5 million customers are using its Rich Communication Services (RCS)-backed Advanced Messaging and Video Calling services. Those subscribers are sending around 40 million messages every day. There are 10 devices on T-Mo’s roster that support Advanced Messaging, eight of which also support Video Calling. So far, T-Mobile has the biggest supporter of RCS-based messaging among the four major US carriers.

AT&T launched support last year and currently has it enabled on a couple of phones, while Sprint (and several other international carriers) recently teamed up with Google to boost the adoption of RCS. Meanwhile, Verizon said last year that it doesn’t have any timeframe for supporting RCS and pointed users toward its own Verizon Messages app. And why would Google ( Telco Public Enemy No 1 ) be so keen on RCE e ? Here is why!!

” By aligning on a universal RCS profile, mobile operators will be able to deploy a consistent RCS implementation, feature set, and configuration. The Android RCS client provided by Google will be based on the universal profile, enabling consumers to access RCS services on their devices. Features such as group chat, high-res photo sharing, read receipts, and more, will now become part of the operator messaging experience, enhancing the experience of over 4 billion SMS users worldwide. GSMA RCS advanced calling features will also be supported in the future by Google “

I have been a long time fan of RCS eventhough most naysayers said it was too little too late in the OTT battle.RCS promises to provide telcos with the ultimate defense strategy against over-the-top (OTT) service providers that are increasingly eating into core voice and data revenue streams. More than that, RCS is the foundation for a single, ubiquitous and interoperable communication service. Because the technology building blocks for RCS/RCSe are available and now in place : Vo LTE , IMS , EPC , SIP…and most important… the users are tired of LATENCY with OTT messaging and we are now  desperately looking for a reliable , super fast rich communication platform provided and secured by their Mobile Operator.

RCS takes away one of the most irritating nuisance with OTT messaging platforms : LATENCY !! I don’t know about you but my WhatsApp message can take anything from 3 seconds to 3 days for delivery. I am still obliged to use SMS when it comes to time sensitive messages Dont tell em but I dislike WhatsApp and their iIk… i tolerate the latency because its free and my lazy Telco SP could not be bothered give me a better alternative such as RCS which is even faster than BBM with carrier grade QoS. According to JOYN the global consumer facing brand for RCS-e services that will be used by Operators : ‘ it just works’ and believe me it does !!!

It is an established fact that telecom operators led by digitally challenged CxO teams have allowed competitors, notably the so-called over-the-top (OTT) players — Netflix, Skype, Spotify, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like, which offer better customer experiences — to steal a march on them. The OTT players distribute their innovative services “on top” of the operators’ networks for free, reducing expenses dramatically and investing the money they save in developing new innovative services, while leaving the operators with all the costs involved in maintaining their networks but little of the value to be captured.

Its even more disappointing when CEO’s of some leading Mobile Operators bemoan the OTT invasion and plead with Regulators to protect them from OTT’s when they have access to the tools and technologies to give their subscribers real time rich messaging and regain some of the ground lost to OTT players.

 

Sadiq Malik ( Telco Strategist )

 

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