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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Next few months are do-or-die (or die again) for RCS and RCS-e

A year ago, I published a report on why I thought RCS was dead , which also included some thoughts on how I thought it might be salvaged.

Since then, it has been reincarnated as RCS-e (e supposedly standing for "enhanced"), which takes out things like presence and focuses on IM and media-sharing. Less generously, I'd perhaps call it "reanimated" and RCS-z (z for zombie, as it's still shambling around despite being dead).

We're about to move into another season of marketing, hype and possibly propaganda for RCS-e, as the market has been promised launches from the European "group of five" major operators - Vodafone, T-Mobile, Orange, Telefonica and Telecom Italia Mobile, with interest from other telcos in Europe, Asia and Middle East (and, perhaps, the US).

Coming up are events such as next week's Rich Communications summit in Munich and Telco 2.0's New Digital Economics EMEA in early November, which has significant RCS-e presence from companies like Vodafone. I'll be at both events.

Although I've been negative about RCS / RCS-e since Day 1 - and various operators have commissioned me to explain my views and demonstrate the "bear case" - I'll try and attend with an open mind. I'm conscious that this time, my skepticism is actually mainstream - the market as a whole seems to agree with me. That worries me, as I don't think I'm influential enough to have convinced everyone, and normally I believe that the Tyranny of Consensus means that the majority is wrong.

So I'll listen to presentations, watch some demos - and grill some of the advocates. But there's a very high bar to make me change my mind, as I've identified at least a dozen reasons why RCS/e is a bad idea, and I suspect that many (most) haven't been addressed.

Some examples: lack of support from Apple, lack of business model, the slow pace of evolution, risks of security breaches or unwanted "emergent" behaviours, and the ridiculousness of trying to intermediate between a user & their Facebook experience.

So it's going to take quite a lot for me to be bitten by the RCS zombie and get infected by enthusiasm for it. Either way, it's not going to eat my brain - I'll be taking plenty of very sharp and pointy wooden stakes with me, ready to put RCS-z out of our collective misery if it's still dead.


Eelco said...

I personally agree with your views on RCSe.

The thing is though; there is a war on unified communications going on. What app(s) will be the user's 'portal' that determine the way the user is going to communicate?

Apple's Message app sends either an iMessage or SMS which ever is available for the recipient. This is completely transparent for the user.

Viber does something similar for phone calls. It places VoIP calls to other Viber users, for free, but if someone in your address book does not have Viber it places a regular circuit switched call. Again, almost transparent for the user.

Facebook, Skype (Microsoft) and Google are also moving in.

It looks like the only group of players that are absent in this battlefield are the mobile operators... But if they don't fight this war, it might not take long before the service providers are out of the communications business and there will only be room for the network operators. Without saying that this is a bad thing.

No matter how bad an idea RCSe might be; it is the only thing service providers can put on the market on relatively short term; that is taking advantage of the traditionally operator strength: federation. Federation is something that OTT players do not do, and do not want to do.

So what else, except RCSe, should operators do to fight this war and stay in the communication business?

Another thing mobile operators are strong in is all the regulated stuff like lawful interception, emergency calls, etc. These functions are something that the OTT players conveniently stay away from. But an operator can not create a business from these functions alone. I wonder if communications will get regulated in the future.

Br. Eelco

Kevin Mitchell said...

love RCS-z! You can officially declare that by MWC 2012 if there are no launches. Or then we could term it RCS-u (underground).

Seriously, MNOs are preparing for RCS-e launches. We are helping them prep now. I hope it succeeds.

Dean Bubley said...

Thanks for the comments.

Eelco - I take your point but I'm unconvinced by the "federation" argument, as well as the premise of "unified communications".

I think that the user benefits from fragmentation, not convergence in communication. People can choose from a wide range of options for their favourite services that fit their lifestyle & context best... and then also use the "federated" services like SMS, PSTN and Email as lowest-common denominator fallbacks when everything else fails.

It is possible that RCSe might become the next federated fallback option, but I'm unconvinced that's a valuable role to play, even if it was the right tool.

Telcos should be trying to build (or licence, or acquire) the more favoured & high-value service options.

Kevin - I'd go a bit further and say "well-received launches" by 2012. There needs to be some signs that people actually want it.

Just because something gets launched, doesn't mean it's not still dead - it might still be twitching a bit before rigor mortis sets in.

Colin said...

e for EASY or z for Zero...

I think for reasons Eelco brought up Telco's will try RCSe.

But will it be "well received" is another question. One that is not about the service feature but about the user interface and how it's integrated with other Telco services.

Having said that, Telco's are way, way behind so-called OTT and Apple. To combat this Telco's ought to take a fresh look at voice eh communications. And not look at the product but at what people actually try to do when they use SMS, IM, Voice to communicate. IOW, copy how Apple goes about product development.