Why RCS isn't going anywhere (and you should get onboard)
Over the last 20+ years, we’ve all seen the headlines predicting the demise of SMS messaging.
Yet, here we are in May 2021, and SMS is still a powerhouse messaging channel. In many markets, SMS is still the leading Person-to-Person messaging channel. And throughout the world, it remains one of the, if not the, most popular business messaging channels.
We're now seeing RCS starting to face similar headlines. When the U.S.’s Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI): a joint venture between Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile) was announced in a Light Reading article on April 13th, the headline read “Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile kill RCS plans.” Similarly, the telecoms.com online newsletter noted “American telcos have sounded another death knell for RCS.”
CCMI was announced in the autumn of 2019, but it never did much other than announce its formation. And 2020 was a tumultuous year, to say the least. U.S. Carriers were laser-focused on supporting Americans throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Carriers have also been heavily engaged on 5G: acquiring spectrum, rolling out new infrastructure, and launching for usable coverage.
But the end of CCMI doesn't mean the end of RCS for Americans. Far from it!
This should be viewed in a very positive light. Certainly, we’re sad for the many individuals and a few companies that tried to make CCMI successful. But each of the three major carriers has indicated that they remain fully committed to RCS activities. That said, there’s still not full carrier interoperability other than users of Google’s Messages messaging app on Android devices. But carriers can, and will leverage investments and learnings from CCMI, which will further accelerate their RCS implementations.
The last year has proven extremely challenging for Americans (as well as virtually everyone around the world) due to the ongoing pandemic. In terms of communications and commerce, people turned to mobile more than ever. In the United States, SMS messaging skyrocketed at the start of lockdowns and remained heavily elevated for many months.
A2P SMS messaging also increased its prominence as more and more businesses turned to messaging; to quickly reach and engage consumers.
Carrier-based RCS messaging, on the other hand, struggled somewhat during 2020. But Google’s RCS platform continued to expand and build out across the world. Messages, Google’s primary RCS (and SMS, MMS) messaging app now provides a complete over-the-top RCS experience between anyone using Messages on Android devices with full fallback to SMS when the other party does not support RCS.
And that footprint is growing. In late March of this year, T-Mobile announced that it was going in big with Google as they will make Google Messages its default Android app on all current and future Android devices. (And that includes Samsung, too, which has its own RCS-enabled Samsung Messages!)
The good news is that each carrier, whether using Google or not, is providing a Universal Profile standardized Messaging as a Platform (MaaP) API for messaging service providers (MSPs) and messaging aggregators to connect to provide A2P RCS messaging. That coupled with MSPs and aggregators fallback to SMS/MMS to support those non-RCS capable devices provides a strong option for conversational messaging between businesses and consumers as well as old-fashion A2P messaging.
When coupled with a well-designed bot sporting AI-enhanced Natural Language Processing (NLP), RCS use cases excel. While non-carrier, non-SMS/MMS/RCS messaging is also strong for channels like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, those are parts of closed ecosystems. Even though they are large ecosystems in some markets, nothing matches the ubiquity of carrier-based messaging – especially when businesses are using these channels to interact with consumers.
As we all know, Apple does not support RCS in iOS. But let's not make too many assumptions. Some sources have indicated that Apple has written the necessary code to support RCS within iMessage but is withholding support until further notice. We still hold out some hope that one day - Apple will support some form of GSMA Universal Profile RCS. According to StatCounter Global Stats, the United States split between iOS and Android is 59.98% iOS and 39.75% Android as of March 2021. That’s still 40% of U.S consumers with Android devices that can certainly benefit from a strong RCS program!
Globally, Android has a 71.83% market share vs. 27.41% for iOS, with many markets exceeding 80% Android. Not all these markets are conducive (yet) for RCS, but that still makes for a multi-billion device opportunity.
During the last year, the U.S. carriers have devoted significant efforts to their 5G rollout. While 5G provides very good support for SMS, the carrier IMS requirements for 5G also makes it much easier for carriers to support RCS. U.S. Carrier-supported RCS activity should increase in 2021, many of them taking advantage of work that was done for CCMI, so all those learnings will likely carry on.
In summary: it’s way too early to trumpet the demise of RCS! Just because the CCMI joint venture was disbanded doesn't mean it's the end. Far from it. RCS remains, and will continue to get carrier attention as well as attention from the messaging community. The reported demise of RCS is just wrong.