Google comes to the rescue of telcos’ Rich Communication Services

via Flickr © wuestenigel (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © wuestenigel (CC BY 2.0)

  • It’s been on the cards for a while, but now it looks as though Google is about to turn its alliance over RCS into full-on global service for Android
  • France and the UK are first in line to get the service, after that... the world
  • Or so it’s thought. Can Google make a go of it?

Last May (2018) we wrote of the GSMA talking up the prospects (again) for the then almost moribund service profile of RCS (Rich Communications Services), which it said was now being  actively supported by Japanese mobile operators KDDI Corporation, NTT DOCOMO and SoftBank (see - Will a revived RCS make mobile telcos rich?).

The GSMA said RCS was therefore “poised for rapid growth”. Well, over a year later it’s still poised, but now it looks as though it might, just might, rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of those multiple launch and relaunch attempts.

Enter Google... again.

In fact Google’s helping hand has been on offer for a while. Way back in early 2016 (can it have been that long ago?) Google announced that it was going to support  RCS on its Android platform. Now it’s really going to put its back into it by launching its own service as part of Android, rather than just provide a client as before.

A report in The Verge claims that Google is launching its RCS service in the UK and France first before ramping it up to other territories.

The move will see owners of Android devices being able to send RCS messages and content using the mobile broadband data pipe and Google's servers, thus bypassing the mobile phone network where there is no carrier-delivered service.

As a feature-rich and slicker replacement for SMS it does just about as much as the other leading messaging environments, although it lacks end-to-end encryption. The Verge says  Google is not going to make it a default on Android, but an active choice, which implies that permissions are going to have to be secured under GDPR.

The strategic objective is fairly clear. Both Google and the telcos would like to win back as much of the messaging market from WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger as possible, thus reducing those services’ visibility in this market and bringing as much visibility as possible back to them.  

Ultimately, there’s the potential that RCS (or whatever it ends up being called) can morph gradually into an all-purpose social media platform for multiple social media groups with the right development of its chat and rich media features, especially if it can eventually be accessed on all smartphones (and feature phones as well).

This is an area that Google has been head-butting for years, so far with as little success as the telcos have had in getting RCS off the ground. Perhaps together they can crack it.

Another attraction is the not inconsiderable revenue potential of allowing - and profiting from - commercial message delivery. This is a big market and SMS with its ubiquity and security has managed to hold onto it in many territories. There is big potential in extending this capability through RCS so that reminders, receipts and so on can be delivered securely for applications like online shopping and customer care of various sorts - clearly a growing and increasingly important area.

Both telcos and Google have, for different reasons, been unable to make headway in messaging/social media, but both can’t afford not to keep trying. If RCS fails to take off yet again, no doubt both will scratch heads take a deep breath and return for another go at it.

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