When you can’t beat them, Joyn them
SK Telecom, and of course the GSMA, have been quick to trumpet the apparent success of the Korean operator’s ‘Joyn.T’ service, launched in December. SK says it has a signed up 1 million users just 50 days after launch and, the subtext goes, it’s an endorsement of the RCSe Joyn approach, proving that it is possible to hit back at the evil OTT players and all their devilish works - operators too can provide communications services that users actually want to use.
Joyn is a branded instance of telco standard Rich Communications Services (RCS), promoted by the GSMA. It is seen as a ‘next step’ for interoperable telco services (after MMS) and the idea is that users can ‘enrich’ calls with messages, video, file exchanges and so on. It has been deployed in Spain and now Korea and is seen as something tangible to fight back against OTT messaging and video services.
But can SK’s one million customers in 50 days boast be counted a triumphant result?
Not quite. This is more like the old “offer you can’t refuse” approach. Joyn.T is being offered free (for life) for any SK customer on a flat-rate plan.
SK has also made ‘messages’ data charge exempt and the messages themselves free to send - why wouldn’t SK’s customers welcome Joyn.T as one more interesting free messaging option for their smartphones? What is there to lose? Why not try it out?
But on that basis, to ‘beat’ the OTTs SK has had to joyn them (sorry) in the freemium game with the thinly disguised intention of ‘monetising’ some services which might be pulled into Joyn.T later - perhaps 3rd party add-ins.
This is all fine and proper and building these sorts of services into a flat-rate offer as ‘features’ rather than paid-for extras is almost certainly the way to go for all mobile telcos.
But it’s not really hitting back at OTT service providers... at least not yet. On the modern smartphone it’s not about what apps are resident (there are usually dozens of them, including apps that were embedded by the operator). It’s about whether they get used or not.
Long-time vociferous RCS critic, Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis, wonders how the new offer might “differ from what [SK] had three years ago?” Indeed, as Bubley points out, the three Korean mobile operators - Korea Telecom (KT), LG Telecom (LGT) and SK Telecom (SKT) - got together to launch the first commercially available IMS service in early 2009. It had presence, phonebook, instant messaging, chat and file image transfer - very similar to the feature set available with Joyn.T.
After a promising start, with steady adoption and usage growth, service usage crashed and died the moment the free offers came to an end.
Perhaps this time round in South Korea the core services will stay free - but if they do Joyn.T won’t be seen as an example of how to beat back the OTT providers, just on how to joyn them.
We expect to be covering more Joyn action in Barcelona next week at MWC as more telcos spill their Joyn plans. There will even be OTT Joyn, which is probably where it will all end up anyway... keep watching this space.