Challenging OTT with RCS

T-Mobile US Introduces Advanced Messaging Service

TMobile_logo_lThe history of the GSM Association’s Rich Communication Services (RCS) goes back a decade or so, to a time when operators still had a fighting chance to compete with the growing number of over-the-top services. These were mainly simpler services including e-mail and proprietary instant messaging, though apps like Skype were expected to go mobile. Revenue from operator voice and messaging facilities were under threat.

Operators pre-emptively teamed with handset providers to define a new generation of services for faster connections and swifter phones. The resulting Rich Communication Services platform, later branded “joyn” by the GSM Association, covered all the bases. But the grinding standardization process had a tough time keeping pace with start-ups developing proprietary solutions, despite industry-wide support for RCS.

This week, T-Mobile US introduced an RCS-based communications suite called Advanced Messaging. The service is currently only available for the Samsung Galaxy Grand Prime, but T-Mobile says it will become a standard feature on all the smartphones it carries. Advanced Messaging includes a checklist of modern conveniences like instant messaging, delivery notification and the ability to share files up to 10 megabytes.

T-Mobile is currently the only US operator to offer such a joyn-based service, meaning users can only communicate with others on the same network. Given that T-Mobile is the smallest of America’s four largest operators, the reach of the service is limited.

T-Mobile joins about a dozen other operators around the globe that have rolled out joyn services, some with reasonable success. But it’s questionable whether T-Mobile’s Advanced Messaging stands much of a chance against well-established social media players given the widespread use of third-party services like Facebook and Snapchat in the US. However, the company’s purchase of MetroPCS in 2013 could afford it a valuable head start — MetroPCS was one of the first operators to offer an RCS service, and will have already been able to track performance and opportunities in the US market.

T-Mobile executives say that the Advanced Messaging service will save users the time and effort of registering for external services or installing third-party apps. It will also allow rich services to be embedded deeper into the device — native phone books could display presence information, for example. But operators are still at a disadvantage compared with successful independent alternatives. Joyn shows how far over-the-top services have advanced.

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