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EDITORIAL WhatsApp verses RCS: the battle for business messaging

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Sending messages via text, WhatsApp, iMessage, social media DMs and more is the way for people and brands to talk to each other. Even governments, spurred into modernisation by the coronavirus pandemic, have turned to messaging to get their, err, message across.

All this is driving what some analysts believe is set to be a golden age of messaging – and one that could also be what hits the ignition switch for the widespread roll out of RCS.

But RCS, Google’s attempt at SMS 2.0, a rich and much more interactive messaging platform that also supports transactions, is not the lead runner in this messaging renaissance race. WhatsApp is by far the front runner.

In fact, WhatsApp is so rich and interactive that its prevalence is set to be almost ubiquitous within a few short years. In fact, it could be so prevalent that it makes RCS as we know it a non-starter.

According to Mobilesquared, with 2 billion WhatsApp users worldwide, WhatsApp business – the business version of the messaging service that can bring all manner of interactive benefits to brands – is already the most popular business messaging service out there.

Mobilesquared’s latest Databook & Report, WhatsApp Business Messaging Traffic & Spend Forecasts, by country & region (2019-24), estimates WhatsApp Business will experience unprecedented growth of more than 5,400% among medium and large businesses looking to use its API from just 992 at the end of 2019 to almost 55,000 by 2024.

Mobilesquared predicts the majority of the business messaging traffic generated over WhatsApp will be inbound traffic (also referred to as P2A or person-2-application), making WhatsApp Business the go-to messaging channel for customer care.

Total enterprise spend on WhatsApp Business by medium and large businesses is forecast to grow from $38.7 million in 2019 to $3.6 billion by 2024, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 151%.

While Mobilesquared’s research set out to discover and record primarily the market for RCS and how it was going to grow, it now finds that, today at least, WhatsApp is by far the most popular business messaging service – and that it offers pretty much what RCS was planning to offer today.

So, where does this leave RCS? According to research by Synchronoss in recent report How operator-sponsored RCS can win consumer hearts and brand budgets, the US at least is a market primed for operator-sponsored, brand-targeted advanced messaging based on Rich Communications Services (RCS).

With operators and Google behind it, it seems hard to see RCS being anything but a runaway success.

But WhatsApp is an interesting technology. It combines the ease of use and richness found in IM services, but also ties it into a mobile number. It was sort of like RCS before we even knew we needed RCS.

However, many experts believe that there is room for both and that RCS isn’t there to compete with WhatsApp.

For starters, RCS isn’t really aimed at being a personal messaging app: it has been developed to offer a range of services that will tickle the fancy 0f brands and businesses. WhatsApp is, currently, primarily a P2P messaging app that happens to have some business applications.

Secondly, Google wants to use RCS to bolster its core business – advertising – and so the key driver is going to be commercial. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, is more a service in search of monetisation if it can get it.

That said, with more people using WhatsApp while in lockdown than ever before and with many new features likely to be added to it in the coming years, it will be interesting to see where RCS gets to.

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