Mar 28th 2014

Time to get rich for the operators

The GSMA has a long, proud history of identifying need in the mobile community, constantly setting the bar highly with initiatives to benefit the industry and also creating the monster that is MWC. But as a sceptical ex-journo I have always been suspicious of two things: NFC payments (which I’ll come to at a later date) and RCS.

For those not well versed in the actions of the telecoms industry body, RCS is an attempt to help mobile operators knock OTT players such as Skype and WhatsApp off the top perch by providing Rich Communications Services such as group calls and multimedia messaging with the same level of ubiquity as services such as SMS.

I’ve always dismissed this as a niche service that is unlikely to really take off, with little demand in the world outside the tech community and groups of students using ‘cool new apps’. However, over the last few weeks, I’ve started to see demand for enhanced messaging services among even my most technophobic friends.

Increasingly one-to-one communications are being replaced with groups, as friends, colleagues and housemates all utilise group messaging services to organise everything from conference calls to nights out. The problem is, there are so many of these messaging apps that everyone seems to have their own preference. So you end up with four or five different apps running simultaneously on your phone, eating away at your precious battery and using up data.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was one body to unify us all for the common good? Like a kind of mobile-industry version of Bob Geldof shouting at viewers at Live Aid? Luckily, that’s what the GSMA is trying to do with the introduction of RCS.  

However, it’s taking far too long. There’s no getting away from that. WhatsApp launched in 2009; assuming the GSMA started working on a rival service instantly that’s still five years. The OTT players are now getting a real foothold in the market and many phones come with some of these apps pre-installed.

The OTT footprint is huge and with consolidation already happening (most notably with Facebook buying WhatsApp) and they are moving ever closer to a ubiquitous service. If operators don’t get their act together soon, it may very well be too late.

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