Could RCSe work after all?
It represents the biggest counter-offensive from operators so far in their battle with OTT players. Yet critics want to know just how RCSe will compete with OTT services, whether it has the required reach, and most pointedly, if it can move fast enough.
Based on a specification put forward by some of the biggest operators in the business and backed up by the GSMA, it promises subscribers IM chat, video and file sharing services across any device, on any network, with anyone in their mobile address book.
Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia, Telefonica, and Vodafone have all committed to rolling out RCSe under the joyn brandname. And if they get it right, the superior user experience served up by RCSe can help them start clawing back some of the traffic lost to OTT offerings.
That’s the theory, anyway. Opinions are split on whether it’ll actually work – detractors point to the enormous popularity of services like Skype, the daunting task of getting RCSe on as many devices as possible, and the fact that the GSMA has estimated it could take up to three years before the service is globally available.
Tough questions, certainly. But what if the operators have the answers?
Because it’s still early days for RCSe, with joyn only announced at Mobile World Congress in February. And there are already signs that momentum is slowly building in the operators’ favor. Faced with the prospect of being locked out of operator portfolios if they don’t cooperate, nine of the top ten handset manufacturers have stated their commitment to supporting RCSe on their products.
The single hold-out might be a big name – Apple, no less – but Deutsche Telekom’s Kobus Smit recently opined that as joyn is intended to be a core communications service, Apple’s continued non-participation may become a cause of dissatisfaction for iPhone users.
Roll-out hasn’t been slow, either. Telefonica and Vodafone Spain launched joyn in June, followed by Vodafone Germany in August. And when it comes to the all-important user experience, opinion might just be starting to swing away from the OTT competition. Only last week, one report described RCSe as the best of both worlds, combining the functionality of OTT services with the reliability of operator offerings, and Gabriel Brown of Heavy Reading told us recently that there is a need for reliable, secure, rich communication services – and that this is exactly what operators do well.
But perhaps the most telling indicator of RCSe’s potential comes from a familiar source. We’ve written before about South Korea as a bellweather for communication services trends, and the evidence suggests that interoperable, operator-based IM services have certainly shaken things up in the Land of the Morning Calm.
Network traffic increased a staggering 100 times following the launch of an IM service by the country’s three major operators in March 2009, while the number of users grew 54 times. The operators also discovered that heavy SMS users continued to text at the same levels, and simply used IM to communicate even more.
So there you go. RCSe may not be too little, too late. It may be just on time.