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Mixed Messages on RCS from the IMS World Forum Highlight Challenges and Missed Opportunities

First, the majority of operators claimed either to have already deployed RCS or to have an intention to do so in the next two years. This is somewhat surprising. I wonder how many are using it. We’ve heard that before, but let’s see. Somewhat more interestingly, three questions point to some tension within operators that simply must be resolved in order to do something positive with RCS launches.

As usual, there was significant doubt about the monetisation and business case behind RCS. At the same time, there was majority recognition that RCS could provide a foundation for the innovation of new value added services. In other words, a range of new capabilities that could be interesting over and above the things for which RCS was originally designed. This is much more positive. Further, another question suggested agreement that RCS APIs could provide a new range of enablers for B2C services.

The tension here is in the legacy thinking that demands a business case for a service that quite evidently cannot deliver any revenue in traditional terms but which is viewed as an enabler for things that we don’t yet know or understand but which we expect to follow from delivering RCS and enabling the associated APIs. That’s great but it highlights a huge gulf between telcos and OTTs.

OTTs may not know a business model before they launch a service. Indeed, the business model with which they start may evolve and be replaced by another. They invest in something they believe in and evolve it in new directions in response to market exposure, competitive pressures and the like. Their investors expect and demand a return, but they can also understand that the eventual returns may take shape in a completely different way from those originally anticipated.

We contrasted these models in a presentation at a briefing hosted by Newpace at the RCS event last year. We discussed agile development processes, business model innovation and VC culture in a way that highlighted the differences between traditional telco value added service design, rollout and performance and OTT behaviour. In the context of which, it’s worth remembering that no one had a business model for SMS when it was launched as a service to support another (voicemail notification). The success of SMS was somewhat serendipitous, we might say.

We’re sure that RCS can be an enabler to support a wide range of services. We’re equally sure it has a role to play in the messaging ecosystem, but we’re also positive that it should never be positioned as an OTT challenge. The problem is that this thinking pervades the industry and, while recognising the new services that it can enable through API integration (see Solaiemes, for example), telcos simultaneously hold back this innovation by demanding adherence to a mode of delivery that has no real foundation.

It’s great to see apparent commitment to RCS from operators, but we’re sceptical. It does seem as if there will be the inevitable delays because out-dated thinking holds decision makers back. Which is a shame, because the innovation possibilities are here – that’s why there should be no further delays, although sadly, there probably will be.