RCS: The Evolution

Mavenir woman on tablet device in coffee shop
24 October 2018
Authored by: Guillaume Le Mener

The First Short Message Service

The evolution of mobile messaging didn’t start with a billion-dollar merger or breakthrough discovery, but with something as simple as a two-word text message. On December 3rd, 1992 Engineer Neil Papworth, as part of Sema Group plc, sent the first Short Message Service (SMS) when he sent "merry Christmas" from his computer to the cellphone of Vodafone director Richard Jarvis. Although it was what Jon Fingas of Engadget would later coin “a modest start,” it would ultimately change technology and social norms forever. Now, all over the world users are accustomed to messaging with friends and family while businesses can leverage mobile messaging to authenticate users, deliver alerts and even run marketing campaigns.

The Early Days of SMS

When SMS became popular in the late nineties, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) were at the center of the messaging revolution and profited from messaging in three ways:

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic — by charging users a monthly or per-message fee.
  • Application-to-person (A2P) traffic — by charging aggregators and businesses for messages delivered to the mobile users. This revenue model started several years later but quickly became profitable.
  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) interconnect — SMS was propagated via signaling and MNOs didn’t charge each other to terminate messages, but as the services started to be lucrative, MNOs started monetizing the SMS traffic terminated in their networks.

The limitations of SMS—text only and usually priced per message—provided an opportunity for data-based applications to disrupt the messaging market with free services that run on top of the data plan. This quickly wiped out the MNO SMS business based on an overpriced cost per message, but as MNOs were starting to respond, by including SMS in their ‘all-you-can-eat plans’, the OTT apps included emojis, image and video sharing, groups and other advanced features that SMS simply couldn’t provide.

Although the over the top (OTT) messaging applications disrupted the MNO’s SMS business model, they also had a positive effect: they popularized conversational messaging interactions and increased the overall adoption of messaging; something very attractive to brands trying to reach out to a larger consumer base.

However, they also created a fragmented messaging ecosystem with different APIs, restrictions and lack of a uniform feature set; something that brands also dislike. These two effects opened an opportunity for MNOs to get back into the game!

The Battle Against OTT

A joint effort by the GSMA, leading MNOs, suppliers of telecommunications equipment, and application developers, lead to the creation of the Rich Communication Services (RCS) standards, bringing forward a successor to SMS which enhanced the user experience with multimedia capabilities including audio and video delivery, conversational messaging, groups, and many other improvements. After multiple versions of the RCS standard, RCS was commercially launched in several countries under the Joyn brand. However, these launches didn’t bring anything revolutionarily new compared to the OTT applications and lacked the critical mass of clients and interconnection agreements to become truly ubiquitous. As a result, Joyn failed to recover the P2P market, and most MNOs gave up on RCS.

The Rise of RCS

But, lately, many things have changed in RCS, enough to make it very worthwhile:

  • Standardization of the Universal Profile — a baseline of features and technical enablers that ensures clients, network elements, and mobile devices interoperate.
  • Pre-installed clients on handsets — Android Messages (bundled with Android 8.0 Oreo) and Samsung Messages (preinstalled on Samsung Galaxy devices) enabled a significant amount of 2018 devices with RCS capabilities.
  • Consensus on A2P revenue as the monetization vehicle for RCS.

With the arrival of the universal profile, RCS guarantees a uniform experience across devices and networks. RCS also includes a fallback to SMS and MMS, providing a universal messaging ecosystem in which it is possible to send a message to any user as long as they have a mobile phone number. All these factors will help RCS attain the critical mass of users, millions of eyeballs focused on a screen that will soon become a digital billboard that brands will want to target, and MNOs can monetize.

Mavenir’s RCS takes full advantage of the universal profile to provide a consistent and interoperable messaging experience between all supported devices across all operators worldwide presenting new revenue opportunities for operators looking to offer new services to enterprise customers.

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Guillaume Le Mener
Guillaume Le Mener
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Guillaume Le Mener

Guillaume is GM, Enterprise Solutions where he leads the global rollout of Mavenir’s mobile native UCaaS solutions.

Previously, Guillaume was responsible for Corporate Development and Global Marketing. Prior to that, he served as the Senior Director of Business Development and Global Product Marketing for Netscout (formerly Tektronix, a Danaher company) and with InfoVista where he held various roles including Presales Director for EMEA and NA, and Product Management and Product Marketing Director.