Will Google take control over our messaging communication?
I must admit that this one took me by surprise. Android is going to support RCS natively as part of the OS and to help this happen, Google is acquiring Jibe Mobile, a cloud provider of RCS services to service providers.
Does the announcement of Google really change the picture and why in the world does Google want to get into RCS?
Quick facts about RCS
RCS or Rich Communication Suite/Services is an initiative of large industry players (service providers and vendors) backed by the GSMA. It started back in 2007 and haven’t managed to flourish since then even after their rebrand and noise around Joyn.
It is hard to stay indifferent to RCS. People typically either hate it or love it as it is viewed as a battle of Bellheads vs. Netheads.
RCS is on the Bellheads side trying to keep messaging in the hands of the operators while the Netheads want these services to remain as internet OTT services.
What is Google looking for in RCS?
Google already provides messaging services through Hangouts but it seems it is not as popular as competing services such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, WeChat.
Through Android Google has some control over the majority of mobile devices introduced to the market but the device vendors can modify the Android version they put on the device.
While this is true, since this move of Google plays nicely with the interests of the service providers – fight OTT services by launching their own messaging services – and since the service providers are still the ones pushing a large portion of mobile devices to market through their plans, we should expect that service providers will want to see this service as part of the phones they promote.
Different from simply adding an RCS client by the chipset vendor or device manufacturer the solution Jibe Mobile offers today is a cloud service. This falls nicely into Google’s desire to stay on top of our messaging traffic.
Does this move change the destiny of RCS and impose a threat on OTT messaging services?
The short answer is, only to some extent and I’ll explain why.
The promise of RCS is a fully cross network/vendor interoperable messaging service. To date, it didn’t deliver on this promise.
Once Google digests Jibe Mobile and introduces the service as part of Android, the service should be interoperable across Android devices regardless of the service provider, similar to how iMessage of Apple is interoperable across Apple devices regardless of the service provider.
Since RCS of Google will come as part of the OS and the device, it will kick-in seamlessly as part of the device contacts and messaging whenever the 2 (or n) participants are using Android. This will make usage of the service pretty massive as the user will need to install nothing or do nothing to use it.
An OTT service on the other hand is interoperable across devices and OS but works in a silo of the OTT. Different from how RCS will come in Android, OTT services require installing an app and using it over a competing OTT app for messaging. One can say that it is the same as clicking on the Contacts/Messaging/Phone icon that comes as part of the phone but for many, non-techy users it is more natural to use what came with the phone as their default service vs. using an app. Currently, the experience provided by the default service of the phone/service provider is so much inferior compared to OTT that users preferred the OTT option.
The 2 questions are:
What will be the business model of the service providers? Will they try to charge for this service?
I believe that if they will try to charge extra for this service it will fail. Users are used to free OTT services and messaging pricing has gone down to flat rate or very low rate. There is no going back here.
Will users change their habit of using OTT?
There is no yes or no answer here. I believe that if RCS will come native in the device and kick-in seamlessly a good chunk of messaging traffic will shift from OTT to this (assuming the answer to the previous question is NO).
This move by Google is a smart move, if played right, it can bring to Google the control over a large part of the world’s messaging. They will know more about what we text, chat and share with friends.
For the service provider I’m not sure this will bring relief, it depends on how Google will play along.
Google may introduce RCS as yet another OTT service or it may add the service provider into the game and give them control over the business model of the service so they can include it as part of their plans.