As has been the case over the last few years, Mobile World Congress contained news about the evolution of the Rich Communication Suite and an implied operator fight back against OTT players.

As European Communications reported last week, the GSMA made several RCS announcements this year, including the launch of joyn – a new brand name for RCS services.

While such announcements are both welcome and necessary, serious challenges remain as the industry battles against the accusation that it is doing too little, too late.

One problem is that we are still awaiting commercial launches to see if RCS services will actually prove a hit with consumers.

Several operators have promised they will roll out RCS services this year; Orange, for example, has said it will launch in Spain during Q2.

However, Paul Lambert, senior analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media, believes such piecemeal launches are not the way forward.

“Operators will fail to realise the potential of RCS if they launch on an operator-by-operator and even country-by-country basis,” he said, citing OTT internet messaging services that are not defined by operators, countries or devices as a counter argument.

Crucially, operators must ensure they have road tested their RCS services before all-IP networks become ubiquitous.

“2012 will be the do-or-die year for RCS services and, quite possibly, for mobile operators’ chances to ensure that they secure a role in providing IP-based communications services to their subscribers,” confirmed Pamela Clark-Dickson, senior analyst at Informa.

Some progress is being made; several high-profile device manufacturers are on board – the GSMA said HTC, Huawei, LG, Nokia, Research In Motion, Samsung, Sony and ZTE have announced they will support RCS in their handsets.

However, Lambert said history does not provide much comfort when it comes to the industry’s major players working together successfully.

“It is now up to operators and vendors to work together in ways they haven’t been able to do since the introduction of first GSM and then SMS to realise the potential success of RCS,” he said.

Several vendors are looking at ways to innovate. Messaging specialist Synchronica, for example, has launched an RCS-as-a-platform solution that enables operators to roll out RCS services within 12-16 weeks without the need for big capital outlays.

“Operators shouldn’t have to abandon legacy investments as a means of deploying new technology," commented Synchronica CTO Kim Hartlev.

But provision alone is not enough; ideally, operators will want to make RCS profitable too.

According to a survey released last week by messaging services vendor Acision, 68 percent of mobile phone users in the UK would be willing to pay for enhanced RCS services such as IM and video sharing.

However, Clark-Dickson predicts that many operators will offer basic RCS services for free or “perceived free” as part of a bundle.

Much will depend on how RCS is marketed to consumers. According to Acision, this could be a tougher sell than many envisage.

Just four percent of smartphone users in the UK, for example, think that instant messaging is more reliable and faster than SMS.

“Mobile IM does have its advantages but the market is currently fragmented as services cannot communicate with each other and relies on a smartphone or tablet device with a mobile broadband connection,” said Acision CEO Jorgen Nilsson.

This will no doubt change as all-IP networks become the norm and operators are clearly hoping that RCS can fill the gap in the meantime.

Ultimately, there is an ever-decreasing window of opportunity for operators to get RCS services up and running alongside a clear strategy for revenue generation.

The potential is certainly there, but there is no more time for behind-the-scenes testing while OTT players such as Facebook and WhatsApp continue to increase their subscriber bases and improve their offerings in the market.

 

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