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What do operators need to do to get RCS going?

Perhaps, although in fairness the point of the question was broader. What can we do as an ecosystem to accelerate RCS rollout? Well, a few years ago, we might have mentioned that handset clients needed to be widely available, that platforms needed to be mature and so on. But today, the elements of the ecosystem are in place and have been so for a long time. With that in mind, we still think the major blocking point for RCS deployment is in the operator domain.

The real problem seems to be the way in which RCS investment is viewed. It really doesn’t much matter at this point whether RCS is the right technology or the right solution. It may not be perfect but there isn’t a compelling alternative that can leverage the core mobile operator asset of reach and ubiquity. It’s all very well holding out OTT applications as models of superior performance and functionality (as some analysts quite rightly do), but unless they can all seamlessly interoperate, they will remain isolated islands, albeit increasingly big ones.

The trouble is that operators seem to believe that interoperability from day one is essential. It isn’t. This is a canard and one that needs to be shot down – so long as RCS clients can default to legacy SMS messaging, then it doesn’t matter. Interoperability will come in time, but we need to start somewhere – and RCS is the only game in town that can achieve delivery to any mobile user, regardless of network. Unless and until there is an alternative, MNOs really have only two choices.

Either commit to RCS and go with it as it is, or else stop prevaricating, get off the fence and make an equally positive commitment not to deploy it. The thing is, RCS is a strategic investment – it’s about the future of messaging. It is not a value added service that should be viewed over a two to three year time horizon – it’s a basic capability that is (or should) be expected by network users and therefore should be subject to different investment criteria, extending over the payback period of the entire network. If operators want to see their role in messaging diminish and are happy to let OTTs capture their customers, that’s fine, so long as they acknowledge that they are betting on becoming smart pipes.

If they want to continue to remain relevant in messaging, then there doesn’t seem to be a credible alternative to deploying RCS. It’s not about an individual business case based on potential revenue that can accrue from the service – all of which remains unclear – but about whether they want to be involved in messaging at all or whether being a smart enabler is where they want to go. Both choices are fine, but the decision rests with the operator, not the rest of the industry ecosystem. And, either way, the decision is strategic and needs to be backed to the hilt.

So in answer to the question, what’s holding back RCS is operator commitment. Fortunately, we are seeing more and more announcements regarding deployment. In this context, whether RCS is perfect is entirely irrelevant – it isn’t – but at least it’s an attempt to do something strategic to invest in the future enhancement of messaging.