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RCS: the new face of messaging, or too little too late?

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SMS is the unlikely runaway success of mobile – so why isn’t SMS2.0 (or Google’s RCS, to give it its proper name) getting anywhere? Here Paul Skeldon takes a look at what RCS has achieved and what needs to happen to push it onwards

Text messaging has been with us for more than 20 years and in that time it has gone from being a tool for engineers to talk to each other to a vital part of the comms mix for all individuals and business worldwide.

And in those 20 years not much has changed. It is cross network, simple and works really well.

However, SMS 2.0 is with us and, given the ubiquity of SMS, you’d think businesses and consumers would be biting off operators’ hands to use it. But so far it has seen only limited uptake and ask anyone in the street what RCS is and they would look at you blankly.

For Rich Communications Services (RCS) is SMS 2.0 and on paper it offers a wide range of things that consumers already expect from OTT services such as WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, as well as SMS -like clients such as Apple’s iMessage.

And yet uptake has been, to put it mildly, slow. According to research by Mobilesquared 82% of brands/enterprises in Europe interested in using RCS, a 30% uplift compared to those companies using SMS. A further 36% would start using RCS within first 12 months.

But other sources suggest that just 12% of companies globally have RCS and use it. 55% of them use it for marketing and promotions and 36% for client support.

Among consumers the picture for RCS is yet more bleak. While SMS is regularly used by 22% of consumers to interact with companies, only 12% do it with RCS. Even Facebook Messenger is used by 8% of consumers, and twitter 4%.

Compare that to the 59% that rely on email and you can see that even in the messaging savvy world in which we live, RCS is lagging behind.

These figures, however, belie what is really going on with RCS. According to Mobilesquared’s chief analyst, Nick Lane, 52% of consumers are interested in using RCS (once it is explained to them). The demand is there, he believes.

“RCS needs to be pushed out and both industry and consumers need to be educated about it,” says Lane. In South America and Indonesia and Malaysia it is starting to get some traction, but the operators have bought into it and are pushing it, he says.

Elsewhere this isn’t the case.

“RCS is dead unless all – and I mean ALL – operators buy into it and push it out there,” warns Andreas Constantinides, Commercial Director at messaging company Yuboto. “Google isn’t really trying to get RCS going, it doesn’t take it seriously. After 10 years only 55 MNOs globally are signed up and it won’t work unless all MNOs sign up.”

According to Constantinides, Google needs to do much more research into how retailers are going to use this, or indeed what they want from it, since they are going to be who are paying for it.

There is also the problem that, like SMS, RCS won’t work unless it works across all networks. This is perhaps why SMS is so popular and so hard to beat: everyone can use it. It is also why all other messaging services and other services that rely on messaging default to SMS when all else fails. It just works.

Until RCS can achieve this it is dead in the water.

Part of the problem is that Google keeps changing its messaging priorities. It recently ditched its fledgling WhatsApp-killer Allo to launch Chat, a messaging services that, well, does exactly what WhatsApp and iMessage do.

But while it struggles to take on WhatsApp, it loses sight of what RCS can achieve.

Some RCS successes

While RCS may be experiencing mixed fortunes, there are some areas where it is starting to gain some traction. With many operators in the US, South America and Indonesia offering it, there are some cool services that show just what it can be used for. Maybe the rest of the world will catch on?

In the US, Google has collaborated with Sprint to enable campaigns with 1-800 Contacts, 1-800-Flowers.com, Booking.com, SnapTravel and Subway, among others, along with messaging partners 3C, CM.com, Mobivity, OpenMarket, Smooch and Twilio. We’re also working with Telcel to bring campaigns to Mexico soon with 5 Piso, Broxel, DHL Mexico and Secretaria de Salud along with messaging partners Airmovil, Auronix, Aldeamo and Tiaxa.

For example, Subway—along with messaging partner Mobivity—sent promotions with detailed images and as a result, saw 144 percent increase in redemption rate compared to the same promotion using SMS.

Also Cinemex, Chicago Transit Bot, Elements Massage, Farm Journal Mobile, Overstock, Paris St. Germain, Redbox, SeatGeek, the Sacramento Kings, UnoTV, and Zerorez are engaging with their customers using RCS.

These messaging experiences are built as part of Google’s Early Access Program with messaging partners 3CInteractive, Bowtie, Concepto Movil, myElefant, nativeMSG, Podium, Quiq, Telcel, Vibes, and Zipwhip.

Brands are using RCS in a number of different ways, from status updates to feedback to customer service, all within the native messaging experience on Android. For example, with the ChiTransitBot, people riding Chicago’s transit system can get directions and find out when the next train is coming. With Redbox, people can browse available movies and games, reserve their favorites, and find a box in just a few taps. And with Overstock, people can get purchase, shipping, and delivery confirmation as well as the option to rate a purchase after delivery or connect directly with customer service.

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About Author

Paul Skeldon

Editor and content creator for Telemedia – for 18 years and counting

1 Comment

  1. Everyone agrees that the potential for RCS is terrific but there are so many unanswered questions that all talk of RCS becoming a reality anytime soon would appear somewhat academic.

    Have we got any more clarity on how RCS messaging is going to be charged? Because RCS will involve data transfer, there’s the possibility that the consumer could end up paying for the privilege of receiving ads from brands.

    Do we know if the other networks apart from Vodafone are going to adopt it soon and if so, what are the timescales?

    Does anyone know if Apple are engaging with RCS? Unless they do then it surely stands no chance of become a worldwide standard.

    I work for a business SMS provider and can’t wait to be able to offer RCS to all our customers but it feels at least a couple of years away.

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