The rollout of Rich Communication Services (RCS) remains a hopeless disaster. A year and a half ago, cellular carriers established the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI),” a joint venture between AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon that is set to roll out enhanced messaging to the masses by 2020. Light Reading reports that the initiative is dead, meaning the airlines have accomplished virtually nothing on the RCS front in the past 18 months.
RCS is a carrier-controlled GSMA standard introduced in 2008 as an upgrade to SMS, the old standard for basic carrier messaging. SMS (which started in 1992!) has failed to keep up with the feature set of over-the-top messaging services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and iMessage, and while RCS still wouldn’t be able to keep up with such services, it could add a little more messaging functionality to courier messages. RCS includes things like type designations, presence information, read receipts, and location sharing.
Verizon confirmed the news to Light Reading, saying: “The owners of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative have decided to terminate the joint venture. However, the owners remain committed to improving the messaging experience for customers, including increasing the availability of RCS .”
What is the motivation for RCS?
With the carriers responsible for RCS, everything about the rollout has been going at an absolutely icy pace. The problem is, there’s no motivation for carriers to actually roll out RCS: free messaging is the norm, so there’s no obvious way to monetize an RCS rollout. Even if you could snap your fingers and make any phone on any carrier RCS compatible today, it still wouldn’t be a viable competitor to an over-the-top service. RCS is a decades-old specification, and it is does it feel like –the spec lacks things you’d want in a modern messaging app, like encryption.
The second major problem with RCS is Apple, which will never support RCS unless the company has undergone a major strategy change. Earlier this month, the Epic Games lawsuit revealed internal Apple communications that made it clear that the company views iMessage’s exclusion of Android users as a competitive advantage, and RCS would poke holes in the walls of Apple’s walled garden.
RCS also has all the standard carrier-centric issues you get from phone-enabled products like Google Allo and the new Google Pay, which see your phone number as your online identity and the center of your communication universe. Like those other products, RCS does not have robust multi-device support for devices without a phone number, such as laptops, desktops, tablets, and watches.
Less resistance to Google’s RCS efforts?
Speaking of Google, the company is actually the largest player in RCS messaging, thanks to its purchase of Jibe — a middleware company that offers RCS solutions to carriers — in 2015. Google launched Google Allo in 2018 (Google messaging app from 2016 ) killed, with the plan to push RCS through Google Messages (Google messaging app from 2014). The carriers’ creation of the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI) was seen at the time as a dulling of Google’s RCS plans, and in response, Google began rolling out RCS. without the providers by enabling RCS in the UK and France, provided that both users were using Google Messages and had the ‘Chat’ setting enabled. The whole point of RCS is its default, though, as a replacement for lowest common denominator SMS, so it didn’t make sense to have it as an optional extra in Google’s messaging app. Google has been able to experiment with providing services on top of RCS, such as end-to-end encryption, provided both users use Google Messages (and only for one-to-one messaging).
Google’s plans started to make a little more sense when it struck a deal with T-Mobile in May 2020 that made Google Messages the company’s default SMS/RCS app on all Android devices. As Light Reading points out, Google doesn’t control T-Mobile’s backend with Jibe (T-Mobile uses a company called Mavenir), but T-Mobile can bypass the CCMI and now push a standard RCS messaging app. However, T-Mobile has always been the easiest carrier to work with. Verizon said it still wants to pursue RCS, but declined to say how, while AT&T didn’t answer questions from Light Reading about what’s next. It all sounds just like the usual status quo that has resulted in the past 10+ years of RCS nothingness.
On the one hand, the creation of the CCMI in 2019 and its dissolution in 2021 means that the carriers have achieved absolutely nothing on the RCS front in the past year and a half. On the other hand, this could mean less resistance to Google’s RCS platform, which is a working, functional solution. Historically, however, it was the right move to bet against RCS, and we most likely won’t continue to see anything happen.