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Friday, February 17, 2012

Will a maverick operator hijack the RCSe launch with a Telco-OTT alternative?

This post is brief, entirely speculative and rather mischief-making.

The next few weeks and months are likely to see a lot of coverage of RCSe. Whether it's ultimately successful or not (I still think not), there's presumably a decent chunk of marketing budget allocated by GSMA, the G5 operators, and presumably some device vendors.

In other words, the idea of "mobile instant messaging" and "video sharing" ought to be penetrating the awareness of many of those that have so far ignored BBM, WhatsApp and all the alternatives.

Now, bear in mind that the initial RCSe launch is likely to be along the lines of "It's available on a few brand new phones.... plus these ones if you upgrade the OS.... and also on the iPhone & unlocked Android devices if you download this app". We might also see a PC client or a web dashboard or even a Facebook plug-in or two. And because they all have to conform to the same underlying specs, there is likely to be a strong flavour of mediocrity.

But the interesting ones are in the second half of that paragraph. On an iPhone, or a PC, any RCSe app will look just like any other app. Probably on a lot of Android devices too, and maybe other smartphones as well. They'll be delivered from the AppStore, be usable over any data connection, irrespective of the access provider.

In other words, they will be #TelcoOTT implementations of RCSe - euphemistically known as "broadband access".

Now in theory, each operator issuing such OTT versions of RCS ought to do the honourable thing and stick to its own customer base. If you're on Orange, you get the Orange version of the RCSe broadband access app. Maybe get them to enter their phone number and send them an SMS with an authentication code if they're a subscriber, or (on Android) just limit downloads to on-net users. In other words, restrict access in a similar way to, say, a mobile data quota app today. In the same way, I can't download an AT&T or SingTel "dashboard" app and expect it to work on my phone.

BUT....

That's only by choice.

What happens if one of the operators decides to do something disruptive? And they *do* allow anybody to download their RCSe app, irrespective of network? They could launch a true OTT version of RCSe, at the same time as the wider market launch, exploiting the marketing budget, but sticking two fingers up at the concept of interoperability.

Imagine seeing the adverts for "Vodafone Messenger - available now for everyone on any network!", with a differentiated UI, some cool extra features that make the "vanilla" RCSe look weak, a clever social-marketing approach, web mashups and so on. If I was an operator looking to launch a Telco-OTT messaging app, now would be the optimum time to do it. I might even steal and edit the GSMA's line "It's just on the AppStore. It just works properly".

You remember those old cowboy or gangster movies, where one of the gang members suddenly turns on his compatriots, just when they thought they were all working together? Or spy movies, when one of them is secretly "working for the other side"?

The GSMA is trying to turn Barcelona into some sort of mobile-entertainment version of Hollywood. Will this be the first blockbuster with a "double agent" plot? You know what they say... the old stories are always the best ones.

1 comment:

InfoStack said...

Doesn't this just mean the industry HAS to move to a horizontal orientation? The problem is that vertically integrated carriers do not scale.