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Thoughts from the IMS World Forum: RCS – what does it mean?

RCS is the new star of the mobile industry, but there were a lot of darts thrown at it.

Despite the enthusiasm of its main proponents, it seemed to be fashionable to hurl brickbats in its direction. Is the criticism warranted?

Written by
Guy Redmill
Published on
1 Jun 2010

Well, judging by preliminary findings from our research project, developed in conjunction with Moriana, some of it certainly is. We showcased the early findings in a workshop at the IMS World Forum and RCS elicited considerable interest from the participating operators. But all recognise the challenge and none could be breezily optimistic.

Both the respondents to the survey and those in the room felt that, while it was a useful initiative, it really was coming a bit late to the party. Worse, given the significant obstacles in its way, RCS has a major challenge to offer anything useful. Let's recap.

To be successful, RCS needs to achieve critical mass across multiple handsets and operators need to ensure full interoperability so that they do not sit as islands with small populations of users. All of this needs to happen, from an initial base of a few trials, within the next couple of years, while the OTT gang, against which this is some kind of response, continue to forge ahead.

That's a big ask, as British football commentators are wont to say.

Well, it's not quite that simple. First, handsets with RCS clients will begin to ship this year. Secondly, RCS builds upon IMS, so if you have an IMS infrastructure, it is not supposed to be a big leap to add the RCS layer. Well, we have heard that before, but maybe it can happen. Finally, it's supposed to be backwards compatible - that is, if a message is sent to a non-RCS client handset, then it should default to a legacy (i.e. SMS) alert, so although we will start with a small penetration, it doesn't mean that it can't be useful on its own.

But, the fact that RCS will probably become the native handset client across a wide range of devices leads us to suspect that it will become increasingly important, despite the obvious criticisms. What's important is not to look for it to be successful across all markets and segments. In other words, don't imagine that RCS will suddenly kill the best applications from the OTT world - people will still seek these from their shiny smartphones. Instead, look for it to be an enabler to turn users from the featurephone domain into data users and secure increased price plan revenue through this. Also, consider how an integrated phone book and communicator can be opened up to business applications via third party interfaces - which are already in consideration (let's hope they are RESTful). There are, or more accurately, will be, many opportunities opened up by RCS, provided that the industry focuses on the right target. It's not Apple and the app stores, but increasing communication possibilities for the masses and targeting high value services, enriched by an open ecosystem of third parties, towards high spending enterprise customers.

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