Rich Communications Services are set to ramp up, and RCS may represent a chance for network operators to revamp their messaging services in the mold of some of the most successful over-the-top applications, while presenting a secure, unique vehicle for businesses to engage a broad customer base across carriers.
“This is really a great opportunity, and I’d argue, maybe the biggest opportunity for innovation for [the carriers],” said Glenn Lurie, CEO of Synchronoss. “Carrier for the most part have had somewhat flattening of revenues. … They are looking around for those next, right places to go invest, and we believe this is one of the best.”
Synchronoss and partner WIT Software will be enabling the RCS joint venture recently formed by the four national wireless network operators in the U.S. The new Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative, or CCMI, expects to develop and deploy Rich Communications Service-based interoperable messaging starting with Android, and beginning next year. While Synchronoss was already working with AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, the support of the JV is its “first significant foray” with T-Mobile US, Lurie said on a call with investors announcing the news of the JV win.
The RCS standard has been around for a number of years, but adoption has been relatively slow. Inter-carrier cooperation on RCS is one of the necessary pieces that has to be in place for it to be successful, according to Mary Clark, CMO of Synchronoss, who has written that “the combination of RCS and operator cooperation will give operators the ability to deliver an advanced messaging experience to their subscribers in a way that eliminates the need for OTT services” such as WhatsApp, Facebook, WeChat and others, which require users to download the same app in order to communicate with one another.
Market analysis firm Mordor Research expects the global RCS market will have a compound annual growth rate of more than 40% through 2024. RCS, Mordor added, “presents a platform to participate in testing an upcoming technology and to be able to make RCS as the default messaging experience worldwide. Companies deploying RCS will have the opportunity to deliver a consistent GSMA Universal Profile and to actively benefit from industry players partnering for the cutting edge of mobile communications.”
On any given device, there are often multiple options for a user who wants to send a message: a carrier SMS and/or messaging service, one associated with the operating system (iMessage or Google Message) and any over-the-top app (Facebook, WeChat, and so on) that they’ve downloaded. Some of them may be RCS or RCS-like, and others are not. The fragmentation, Lurie says, is the opportunity.
“This is all about numbers. It’s about eyeballs,” he added — and, it’s “about [U.S.] carriers grabbing this opportunity, and coming together — which is what they’re doing in the JV — and giving interoperability to a massive number of customers and smartphones and bringing a great experience.”
Lurie said that RCS’ ability to offer a rich experience within a messaging service can be built to the point that users rarely ever have to leave that service — which he said already happens with WeChat and Line. Consumers can make payments, shop and communicate with friends and businesses within the messaging service itself, rather than hopping from app to app or app to browser.
Lurie laid out several stages of RCS evolution, which Synchronoss has seen in supporting RCS for a consortium of companies in Japan. The stages of messaging evolution will start with people messaging each other, then into a situation where businesses and brands can utilize the platform to engage with customers, and eventually reaching what Lurie called a “mobile messaging marketplace world” where users rarely, if ever, have to leave the app in order to accomplish the tasks that they want to do.
However, messaging competitors aren’t just sitting idly by while the carriers seek to capitalize on RCS. Google, which has been working on RCS for several years and already rolled out services for Google Messages users in some European countries, started making RCS available for U.S. users just a few weeks after the cross-carrier RCS JV was announced.
WIT Software, Synchronoss’ partner for RCS for the JV, has also worked with Swisscom, Sinch and Ericsson on an RCS business messaging service. WIT has described RCS as adding “support for group chat and read-receipts in a similar way to Apple’s iMessage and WhatsApp.” For businesses, though, WIT said that RCS “bring secure, rich interactivity to the pre-installed inbox and positions business messaging as a viable alternative to apps with no download required. The technology is also well-placed to automate interactions that are now handled by live agents in call centers.”
For mobile operators, WIT said, RCS “is key to improve the carrier messaging experience, safeguard existing wholesale business and expand the addressable market for mobile operators.”
On a related note, a recent survey from EZ Texting on business-to-person SMS found that 86% of businesses reported seeing higher customer engagement with SMS than with email. The survey found 89% of businesses “miss the opportunity to connect with consumers the way they want to be communicated with” — because while 54% of consumers indicated that they wanted to receive text promotions, only 11% of businesses were utilizing that method. Similarly, EZ Texting found, 83% of consumers surveyed wanted to receive appointment reminders via text, but less than 20% of businesses offered that option.
“Our everyday lives are increasingly managed on the go from our mobile devices,” said Norman Happ, CEO of EZ Texting. “This research clearly outlines that texting is the optimal communications channel to capture attention and engage customers.”
In a blog post on the downsides of social media marketing, German messaging-focused marketing company MessengerPeople noted that even though social media offers a platform for engagement, it is limited as a channel because of concerns over privacy and other issues.
“Your customers are unlikely to tweet you their account number, and you’re probably not going to post a PDF of a prepaid return label on a Facebook post. Multimedia is essentially not supported: you’re limited to writing a quick response,” MessengerPeople wrote. “This means for any even slightly complicated request, you’re simply directing customer from one channel to another.”
RCS, Lurie says, offers businesses the chance to go beyond the basics of SMS communications — typically a brief message and a link — or the limitations of social media engagement. And Mordor Research notes that 5G sets up the possibility that users may depend on their smartphones even more than they do now, with RCS potentially one of the key enablers for new services and monetization. With 5G on its way, Mordor said, “the use of smartphones [will] increase multifold, increasing the demand for the latest models to raise the bar continuously, facilitating the growth for rich communication services.”
Lurie said that as a longtime carrier veteran, he would not have expected to see the kind of impact from an OTT app that successful messaging services have had in Asia. Those services, he said, having that impact because “it’s giving customers what they want. It’s giving them a single-app experience, where everything you do is in one place, versus really, today, we’re bouncing all over the place between apps, and apps and online, and back and forther — and that’s not the experience that customers want.”