RCS: The next big thing

Cue the music to 2001: A Space Odyssey. After a few false starts, RCS is finally here.

It’s been nearly three years since Amir Sarhangi in 2015 announced that, together, with the entire industry, Jibe were making a very particular vision come true. That the dream of bridging the newer world of Silicon Valley with the older world of telecommunications had finally started to materialise. Rich Communication Services (RCS) with the Jibe model, Sarhangi explained, was going to: “flip the infrastructure business model upside down.

It sounded impressive of course. But it also sounded eerily familiar. You could forgive the telcos and blue chips of the world for not entirely paying attention. After all, they had heard this all before. A large number of them had already banded together. First in 2008 and then again in 2011 to offer something superior to SMS for business. Something ground-breaking. Both efforts fell flat.

But there was something different about Sarhangi’s announcement. His company Jibe had just finalised a takeover by a tech titan that would easily have the resources to make a real change. The cannibalisation of SMS that was feared had very quickly become a reality. Not with Instant Messaging (IM) and MMS as first thought, but with Over the Top (OTT) messaging apps such as WhatsApp and BBM. Darwinism rarely proves to be untrue. If SMS was going to survive, it would have to evolve. Google saw the writing on the wall. They dropped their second attempt at OTT messaging with Allo, and put down a whopping bet (of an undisclosed amount) that year in its purchase of Jibe instead, leading to Sarhangi’s grand declaration. It’s 2018, and that bet has finally paid off. It’s time to start taking note.

Why has it taken so long for RCS to become adopted?

SMS remains one of the most important channels for businesses to communicate with consumers. But the functionality of SMS became outdated with the advent of the smartphone. Today, 61% of consumers are craving more features than standard texting can offer. But with so much industry segmentation between regions and carriers and even handset companies, the pioneering plan to create a new universal messaging standard as significant as SMS, but with modern-day capabilities, was a hard one to navigate. MMS, which promised many rich features, never quite stuck its landing. Network providers were reluctant to make the leap towards RCS ever since, at least, until they saw someone else make it, and of course, no one wanted to be the first one to jump. This is why it was so momentous when Google assumed the position.

How do we know RCS is going to work this time?

RCS is already here. And RBM (Rich Business Messaging) is well on the way. In fact, over 1 billion people now have access to RCS messaging tools. If you have bought an Android phone recently, chances are, RCS is already on there. It just needs a network to support it, but Google and their super conglomerate of telcos and tech communications companies including Verizon, Sprint, Telefonica, AT&T, Samsung, HTC, Vodafone, T-Mobile, Asus, Lenova, LG and Microsoft are on the case. They have actually been on the case a while.

As of January 2018, there were 159 million monthly active RCS users around the globe, served by 50 mobile operators. The GSMA estimates that by Q1 2019 there will be circa 1.05 billion monthly active users, served by over 200 mobile operators. T-Mobile said that more than 30 million of its customers are already sending over 250 million RCS messages every single day.  RCS is not a new untested channel. It’s mature and primed for businesses to take advantage of when RBM rolls out to all.

If you are wondering what Apple’s role is in all this, they are rumoured to be involved somehow too. It’s unlikely they can afford to simply ignore such a monumental shift, but so far it’s unclear whether iPhones will steer users towards using iMessage and Apple Business Messaging as their default, or if they will allow RCS. One way or another, the status quo will be disrupted. It’s thought that by 2020, 86% of all smartphones will be RCS-enabled.

Your customers will be using RCS in the very near future. The only real question is, are you ready for it? Do you understand how you can leverage the new rich messaging functionality to drive greater engagement and deliver a superior (not-to-mention competitive) customer experience?

See also: 9 Things to consider when adopting RCS