Rich Communication Services messaging has been widely anticipated as a replacement to the clunky and outdated text message functionality that comes installed on mobile phones by default.
When it eventually arrives, RCS will allow us to do much more than send and receive plain text without needing a third-party app like iMessage and WhatsApp. It has the potential to be a far more engaging, responsive and immersive evolution of SMS with interoperable text- and media-based messaging across all mobile devices and networks right out of the box.
Many argue that it’s way overdue and we shouldn’t really be dealing only in plain text characters in 2019.
Last August, Virgin Trains became an early adopter, using RCS to improve customer service by providing customers with onward journey information on selected train routes.
But wider adoption of RCS still remains a pipe dream. Since the initiative was first born in 2008, the service seems as far away from being a reality as ever.
There are five painful hurdles that need to tackled until we’ll all be able to enjoy the benefits of RCS.
RCS has to be adopted by all networks
Globally there are around 800 mobile phone networks and so far, just 65 of them have adopted RCS messaging. That’s a rather modest 8.1 percent.
In the U.S., all carriers can handle RCS except for Verizon, which has a market share of 34 percent. So currently, over a third of U.S. consumers are unable to use the new technology. However, that may change Verizon has dropped hints it will roll out RCS in early 2019.
In Europe the picture is even bleaker. In most countries RCS is just available on the Vodafone network with almost no other networks yet committing to it.
For those that have rolled out RCS, technical complexities mean that it may not be truly universal and messaging may not work smoothly between operators. It’s a problem that the GSMA’s “Universal Profile” is hoping to eliminate. (The GSMA is the industry body that looks after the interests of mobile operator worldwide.)
For it to become a reality, networks need to adopt a far more collaborative approach and work toward an agreed timetable to deliver the improvement on SMS.
Andreas Constantinides, director at messaging company Yuboto, gave a brutal assessment:
“RCS is dead unless all – and I mean ALL – operators buy into it and push it out there.”
Apple has not yet agreed to embrace RCS
The iPhone has 44 percent of the smartphone market in the U.S. Globally the figure is over 50 percent.
But so far, Apple shows no sign of being interested in RCS. By offering an alternative messaging platform to its iMessage, they could be surrendering a strategic advantage. Also, RCS does not offer the same end to end encryption as iMessage. That means service providers can read RCS messages and may be seen as a security flaw for some users.
Without Apple, RCS messaging will struggle to become a viable messaging option for either businesses or consumers.
Despite a few rumors of talks with the GSMA, Apple has remained quiet on the subject.
It’s not clear who is going to pay for RCS messaging
As it stands, there’s no clarity on who will pay for sending and receiving RCS messages. There’s certainly no consumer appetite to start paying for a new messaging service, regardless of how good it is.
Any hint of a charge and people will immediately revert to existing messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
As the service involves sending rich media like images and video, which will have a data load, there’s the prospect that the receiver could end up paying to receive RCS messages.
Paying for the privilege of a brand sending you a marketing message will not be an acceptable prospect for most consumers.
For businesses, SMS marketing remains enduringly popular and for companies wanting to upgrade to RCS, pricing clarity will be key to understanding what the additional ROI might be. Until the pricing is clear, businesses won’t be able to adopt it.
Awareness of RCS is painfully low
Ask the average person on any street, in any country it they’ve heard of RCS messaging and you’ll get a blank look.
Awareness of the service in Western Europe seems to hover around zero. Accurate awareness figures are elusive because the service is available on so few carriers and in so few territories.
Momentum seems to have stalled and until all the technical and logistical issues are tackled, there seems little point in launching it to consumers.
Huge complexity barrier to entry for companies wanting to use RCS for marketing
Without Apple adopting RCS, companies wishing to use it for communicating with customers will need to split their market into segments based on operating system.
This means having two communication strategies that will lead to more cost and complexity for marketers.
Large brands will probably have the resources to manage the dual integrations but smaller companies are unlikely to invest in that complexity when the existing SMS channel is doing the job already.
The prognosis for RCS
RCS is currently a mirage, shimmering promisingly in the distance, but somehow always just out of reach.
It has the potential to change how billions use messaging. While interesting early case studies may whet our appetites, we are a long way from being able to use it in any meaningful way.
Until these core issue can be comprehensively tackled, then RCS may never become a workable reality. Even if the problems are overcome, it’s hard to imagine this happening before 2021 at the earliest.
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