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RCS @ ITW2019: Best practices, good intentions, hard work

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Last month in Atlanta at ITW 2019, the global wholesale event, MEF’s Future of Messaging Programme hosted a series of events on Rich Communications. Here MEF’s COO Joanne Lacey and speakers from the workshop share their takeaways.

It was fantastic to see a packed room (on a Sunday!) at the Messaging & SMS Network and unsurprisingly, a lot of the discussions were focused on RCS.

However, it was also a clear reminder to us an industry: while interest and demand for insights on RCS was high, more than half of the delegates were in learning mode rather then actively launching or even planning the roll out of RCS services. Much more needs to be done by all stakeholders to accelerate trials and to speed up the engagement with brands and solution providers.

In Atlanta, we launched MEF’s RCS Business Messaging – Best Practices Guidelines, which are based on the experiences of pioneers of RCS and working group discussions. The goal is to help accelerate RCS adoption by the ecosystem through alignment and limit trial & error to enable the industry to move more quickly towards mass market uptake of business messaging via RCS.

Some of the key themes from the guidelines were discussed in Atlanta and here are some of the key takeaways:

Google updates: RCS will be everywhere

Todd Parker, Global Head of Business Development shared some results of early RCS campaigns. Subway sent promotions with RCS carousels and images and saw a 144% increase in redemption rate compared to the same promotion using SMS. These numbers are of course not news to the industry, and it might be too early to base ROI calculations on these cases, however, such headlines help flag how RCS can clearly improve effectiveness in A2P.

Much of the chatter of the show floor was focused on the recent announcement about the roll out of Google Guest. On stage, Google confirmed that it has started to turn on RCS clients in Android phones for customers of networks that have not yet launched RCS. Roll out of Google Guest has begun in Mexico, UK and France with plans to add additional markets in the next 18 months.

This of course would address one main stumbling block: the slow carrier deployments of RCS and also means that A2P RCS will be free for enterprises for a trial period.

Time will tell whether this will kick start an RCS A2P/P2A ecosystem. In a subsequent, MEF member briefing, Google also reiterated its promise that the services will be handed back to the networks operators once they have deployed RCS.

Market forecast and new business models

New business models are emerging for RCS services according to Chief Data Analyst at Mobilesquared Gavin Patterson, who presented their forecasts based on likely revenue models. They argued that outside the traditional A2P cost per delivery, the industry should also look at models from display advertising and customer care replacement to compare value creation.

Mobilesquared sees a bigger potential of RCS for A2P in the short term and P2A traffic in the long term; neither of which would decimate the SMS market, with RCS seen as supplementary channel. Mobilesquared forecasts the total business messaging (SMS + RCS) marketplace will be worth US$35.9 billion by 2023, with A2P SMS contributing US$24.4 billion and RCS US$11.5 billion. In addition, advertising and search over RCS could deliver an additional US$16.8 billion and US$12.6 billion, respectively, in the next five years.

Commercial models: Supporting the ‘SMS evolution’ and new conversational model

For Jonathan Campbell, Director of Rich Messaging at Sinch it is important to have a credible ROI discussion with enterprise clients. New commercial models are exciting, but for any CMO allocating budget to mobile communications, setting future cost expectations is critical to win support.

There needs to be a balance of ease of execution/billing/cost management vs. support for the countless value-add use cases RCS supports. The ecosystem needs to set budgetary pricing now, even if they are simplistic models that will be adapted in future. Enterprises are smart, they see the value of RCS, but will not blindly trust the ecosystem that a fair price will be issued ‘at some point’ in the future.

Brian Heikes, SVP Product & Programme Management at 3C Interactive added “RCS should support business models and commercial terms that are value-based, easy to consume and ultimately unlock the maximum amount of budget to drive revenues. There should be both transactional and conversation based pricing models to facilitate different use cases.”

AT&T: Discovery is key

The US carrier AT&T launched RCS as “Advanced Messaging” in 2015 and added A2P RCS over 18 months ago. Neil McGrath, Technical Lead for Messaging as a Service at AT&T explained that their MaaP service has already outpaced expectations with 12-15 million pages views per week for its Chatbot Discovery page. These numbers show the potential that RCS could open for a new source of income, according to McGrath.

Improvements for interconnection and image rendering are on the way

Brian from 3C also added that messaging solution providers are already busy improving the end user experience by resolving differences such as image representation for RCS. The troubles that slowed the adoption of MMS in its early days are being actively addressed by today’s leading platforms.

RCS has been designed SPAM Free, we need to keep it that way

David Schwind, Sr. Solution Engineer at mGage, highlighted that the RCS platform provides better tools to avoid SPAM and phishing and the ecosystem has to keep guarding against the continuous attacks from fraudsters.

The RCS standard was built to support advanced services such as verified sender IDs, but these will not be enough by themselves. The industry will have to keep full attention not just on technologies but also on processes and self-regulation as well.

Omnichannel will lead the way

RCS is of course not the only rich business communications channel. Andres Sanchez, COO at Identidad Technologies explained that for their clients, RCS would only become a ‘must have; once the availability from operators and the penetration among users smartphones was higher. He believes that aggregators should build omnichannel solutions (across SMS, voice and other channels) in doing so, they will be able plug and play services (such as RCS) at the right time on a single intelligent platform.

So in summary: Good progress, great potential, but much more needs to be done to mature the opportunity for business messaging. The debate continues in MEF’s Future of Messaging Programme. Article first appeared on MEF.