After a decade of false starts Rich Communications Service has hit the mainstream with Google making it available to all Android users.
RCS is effectively SMS on steroids, which brings it closer to the kind of functionality we’ve come to expect from OTT messaging apps such as WhatsApp. In fact, one of the things it lets you do is communicate over wifi rather than your mobile network if you want. It also enables better picture messaging, read receipts, group chats and all the other stuff we take for granted from OTT apps.
Given that it, at best, catches up with what apps have been offering for years, it’s reasonable to wonder why anyone bothers with RCS. It has historically been a GSMA initiative with the potential to empower operators by making them the gatekeepers of a new way of communicating with their subscribers. Then, just when some operators seemed to be finally getting their act together, Google swooped.
So now Messenger, which is the default app through which SMS is sent and received on Android, is pimped to RCS. Google has done its usual feeble job of explaining why the end user should care, but many others in the telecoms industry have been beating the RCS drum for some time. In a nutshell, it has the potential to enable a whole new category of targeted mobile marketing.
Mobile marketing specialists Out There Media recently commissioned a study from Mobilesquared into the market opportunity for mobile operators presented by RCS. The headline figure is that it’s forecast to generate over $50 billion in revenues by 2028. It also contrasts RCS with mobile banner advertising, which it claims has a return on investment of 0.1%.
“Brands are waking up to the chronic waste that surrounds the average digital advertising campaign,” said Kerstin Trikalitis, CEO of Out There Media. “Consumers are growing increasingly tired of Facebook, Google and other digital platforms due to concerns over data privacy, and inaction regarding hate speech, ad fraud and disinformation.
“This is being reflected by the poor levels of brand engagement and ROI their platforms offer brands. The digital advertising world is desperate for a compelling alternative to the Facebook and Google duopoly. RCS is it; it is the alternative for brands that are no longer willing to spend millions on digital advertising and see poor returns.”
How the Google development fits into Trikalitis’s narrative is unclear. On one hand it shouldn’t matter how phone users get RCS, but on the other there’s always the potential of Google trying to hijack the process for its own nefarious ends. At the very least it’s hard to see the point in operators continuing with plans to launch their own RCS platform.
“RCS is a really exciting opportunity for consumers, brands, agencies and mobile operators,” said Nick Lane of Mobilesquared. “Brands can no longer waste vast swathes of their digital budget on ineffective channels. And mobile operators need to deliver a rich messaging experience to their subscribers and remain a central in the messaging landscape, otherwise they face the risk of losing this massive opportunity to the likes of WhatsApp and other challenger messaging apps.”
Let’s see. The RCS installed base is there now, even if not through the method operators would have chosen, Now it’s down to them to sell the service to advertisers, something the telecoms world doesn’t have a great track record of doing. It will presumably be the big US operators that lead the way, with Verizon and AT&T having already invested so much into diversifying into advertising.