Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joyn and RCS 5.0 show off their potential in the US with MetroPCS

We wrote recently about how the timing might be right for Rich Communication Services (RCS) after all. And as if to reinforce the point, one of the leading operators in the US chose the same day as our post to announce the commercial launch of an RCS offering on its network.

Just like the big five operators in Europe, MetroPCS will deliver RCS under the GSMA-licensed joyn brand. It offers more than the basic joyn, though: besides the usual mix of free, integrated instant messaging and chat and simplified content sharing, MetroPCS adds WiFi VoIP and Video calling. The timetable is also familiar from previous RCS unveilings, with the joyn app initially available for one high-end smartphone (in this case, Samsung’s Galaxy Attain) before roll-out of additional RCS-enabled devices next year and native support for joyn services to follow.

But there are more differences  this time – the MetroPCS deployment represents the world's first commercial launch of RCS on an LTE network. The operator will also be using as a baseline the GSMA RCS 5.0 standard, which offers a larger feature set than most existing joyn roll-outs. This makes us wonder whether MetroPCS will be looking to deliver differentiated services along with the base service interoperability that lies at the heart of joyn.

And something else is downright unusual. The industry response so far has been almost universally positive, with the normally sober Fierce Wireless even calling the technology “cutting edge”. Compared with the resigned sighs of “too little, too late” that echo around Europe following an RCS launch anywhere in the continent, the willingness of North America to judge RCS on its own merits – of which there are plenty – is really rather refreshing.

Of course, an RCS announcement just wouldn’t be the same without at least one dissenting voice, and in the case of MetroPCS it comes from an unexpected quarter. T-Mobile USA – who expect to close a merger with MetroPCS sometime in the first half of 2013 – remain distinctly lukewarm on the potential of RCS, to judge by recent comments from company CTO Neville Ray.

While Ray said “there are elements of the RCS offering that make sense,” he instead said he sees the rich application environment in the US already driving many of the services that RCS is aiming to populate.

That may be true.  But there is also little to suggest a lack of space in the market for a fully interoperable communications service that works on any device, on any network, with anyone in a subscriber’s mobile address book. Hopefully a post-merger MetroPCS will get a chance to show just why the industry in North America is right to be excited.


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