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The long-awaited replacement to the outdated and clunky text, RCS (rich communication services) messaging seems to have been waiting in the wings for years now.
In fact, it’s been over a decade since the idea of RCS messaging was first launched by the GSMA in 2008. The GSMA is the industry body that represents the interests of mobile operator worldwide.
The humble text message is over 25 years old and when compared to a host of rival messaging platforms, looks well passed its sell-by date.
It’s amazing how resilient SMS has been when you consider how basic and inflexible it is. But a replacement is well overdue and RCS is almost ready to take over — we hope.
What is RCS messaging?
RCS is the next evolution of SMS. Dubbed SMS 2.0, it will allow a much richer and interactive experience than the plain text, 160 characters that we’re all used to.
RCS will offer group chat, high-resolution images, video, and all the tools that we’ve come to expect with messaging apps like iMessage, WhatsApp, and the others.
Brands can’t wait to get their hands on it as it will allow them to communicate much more effectively (and profitably) with their customers.
The potential for RCS to completely change the business messaging landscape looks to be pretty convincing. Research by Juniper claims that RCS will achieve an average annual growth of 290%over the next four years taking the annual figure to, 56 billion business RCS messages in 2023.
Consumers also appear to be keen on new technology. A research report by OpenMarket found that “nearly 80% of consumers find RCS appealing and 74% say RCS would make them more likely to want to communicate with a brand.”
Early case studies look very promising indeed
In August 2018, Virgin Trains ran a test campaign where they sent customers information about their onward journey on selected routes.
Ten minutes before arrival, customers were sent an RCS message which they could tap to reveal an array of rich travel information.
In February 2018, Subway sent promotions by RCS with detailed images and as a result, saw an astonishing 144% increase in redemption rate compared to the same promotion using SMS.
While these early case studies are encouraging, there are a number of major challenges that RCS needs to tackle before it can be widely adopted as a viable option for brands.
Awareness of RCS is almost non-existent
RCS messaging has been on the horizon since 2008. Ten years later, most people have never heard of RCS let alone actually received one.
Momentum appears to have well and truly stalled, and until all the technical and commercial issues have been resolved, RCS may forever be waiting for its chance to shine.
Consumer awareness figures on RCS don’t exist but Nick Lane of MobileSquared gave a sobering assessment:
“There is still very little understanding around RCS within the industry despite the noticeable buzz around all of this year’s Mobile World Congress’ in Barcelona, Shanghai, and LA.”
Tim Green at Mobile Ecosystem Forum has a rather scathing assessment of the current state of play.
“RCS is – for now at least – classic ‘vapourware’. It’s something that might take off… at some point in the future… we’re not sure when. ” – Tim Green, MEF
Apple has not yet signed up to RCS
In the US the iPhone commands 44% of the mobile handset market, in the rest of the world, the figure is nearly 50%.
Apple has so far, shown no interest in RCS. With Apple being such a major player, it’s hard to envisage RCS being a success without them at the table. Also, RCS competes directly with iMessage, so there are a few reasons they would want to get involved.
Despite a few unconfirmed rumors of Apple being in discussions with the GSMA, they have remained ominously silent on the subject.
RCS expert, Nick Lane from MobileSquared suggests that Apple’s adoption of RCS may not be out of the question, commenting:
“We know that Apple is unlikely to consider interoperability with RCS for P2P traffic until iOS14 at the earliest, which would be 2020.”
Source – MobileSquared
So while it may be some time coming, it seems as if Apple has not completely turned its back on the new technology.
No one has a clue how much RCS is going to cost
Brands that want to become early adopters of RCS have no clarity on what it’s going to cost to send or receive an RCS message.
Even the mobile networks themselves appear to be in the dark.
A survey of global networks conducted by research company ROCCO revealed that 43% of mobile operators had no idea how RCS would impact their revenues, with just 13% of operators saying that it would have a possible impact.
If there’s any chance that the end-user could be charged for either sending or receiving an RCS message, then consumers are likely to avoid it and stick with the existing messaging platforms that they’re already using.
For brands and businesses, SMS is still impressively effective as a core communications channel. Pricing clarity for RCS will need to comprehensively be tackled or they won’t be tempted to exchange SMS for RCS.
RCS has to be embraced by all mobile networks
So far, just 65 mobile networks have adopted RCS messaging, that’s just 8.1% of the global total.
In the U.S., Verizon still hasn’t fully rolled out the technology. With 34% market share, that’s over one-third of the US population that are currently unable to receive RCS messages. This may change soon as Verizon has announced that they plan to fully roll out RCS in 2019.
In Europe, the adoption of RCS is very limited indeed. In most countries, it’s only available on Vodafone, with almost no other networks publicly announcing a timetable for rollout.
Andreas Constantinides, from messaging company Yuboto, gave a stark analysis:
“RCS is dead unless all – and I mean ALL – operators buy into it and push it out there.”
For RCS to flourish, the networks need to adopt a far more collaborative approach and work to an agreed rollout schedule.
Frustrated by a lack of progress, Google recently announced that it was planning to forge ahead with the rollout of RCS on Android, without the involvement of the mobile networks.
In the UK and France, all android users will have access to RCS messaging by the end of June 2019, with other countries being included in the coming months.
Where next for RCS and what does this mean for marketers?
Despite fever-pitched hype and a few high-profile case studies, the arrival of RCS messaging for businesses is as distant as ever.
By the end of this year, there will be 790 million RCS P2P users, so while the user base is rising, there’s still no prospect of being able to access it effectively.
The potential for it to change the way billions of us use messaging is very real but until the main issues are resolved none of us will be able to use it in any meaningful way.
There are dozens of business SMS providers who can’t wait to be able to offer the technology to their patiently waiting customers. The demand for the new service is undoubtedly strong but the service just isn’t anywhere near ready for the market.
This means that for marketers, we’re stuck with the outdated SMS as the only truly universal business messaging channel.
Even if a new urgency and spirit of collaboration emerge soon it’s hard to see RCS becoming a usable alternative to SMS for at least for a couple of years.
Henry Cazalet is Director and Co-founder of The SMS Works.