By Chris Lowe, Business Development Manager at Openmind Networks
It’s a commonly held belief across the mobile industry that there is no tangible business case for RCS.
Many commentators have suggested that operators would struggle to recoup any investment in the enabling technology as it wouldn’t deliver any significant new revenue-generating services.
This remains an extremely short-sighted view and indeed misses the point entirely. Put simply, operators must evolve their core messaging and voice services, or face irrelevance for consumers.
Despite once being seen as free and trendy value-added services, OTTs are now ruling the roost and making significant amounts of money.
They have started developing their own billing and payment relationships, and have access to contextual data through location mapping and other information users share on their platforms.
Before too long, all mobile operators will be left with are the transport pipes and tired, stale, SMS, MMS and voice messaging services that have been around for literally decades.
If MNOs want a slice of this lucrative pie they have to evolve their messaging services to rich platforms where novel, innovative services can flourish and be monetised, and meet expectations of 21st century users.
And crucially for MNOs: these messaging services need to inter-work globally just like SMS does today. Attempting to compete head-on with OTT messaging providers is guaranteed to fail: an MNO simply cannot achieve the scale, the global reach or the velocity.
RCS is that global standard.
According to the GSMA over 40 MNOs have launched RCS and this number is expected to grow to 85 by the end of 2015.
Many operators are in the process of upgrading their network infrastructure to IMS, which supports IP-based communications such as RCS.
However, this is a process that can take several years.
Operators are therefore opting to test and implement new services via cloud-based hosted RCS platforms in parallel to upgrading their own infrastructure to support RCS.
This approach provides extra flexibility and allows operators to begin to rapidly develop, test and deploy new richer communications services with minimal disruption and added cost.
Extra justification for implementing IMS platforms, which support RCS, is that they also enable VoLTE deployment.
Therefore, if an operator has made this initial investment in IMS for VoLTE, it is then a straightforward and affordable process to launch RCS.
Once the user base of RCS has been established globally, RCS as a platform for A2P becomes a very interesting proposition.
High value verticals such as mHealth, mEducation, security and retail channels could be transformed by the enhanced capabilities of RCS.
In the case of mHealth: notifications, reports, content sharing and real-time monitoring of wearables could be globally adopted using the common standard of RCS.
Operators can’t currently charge for P2P messaging services such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Nevertheless, these so-called OTT messaging services make plenty of money by offering third parties the chance to brand content shared in these messaging communities.
Brands are increasingly becoming active in Viber, Line and Facebook and see these as "shop-fronts" for their own brand and the quickest and most effective way to reach consumers.
So why can’t operators use RCS to create these communities in an environment that they themselves can control and monetise?
Big global brands such as Coca Cola are driven by influencing the mass market and sponsoring channels that deliver the most eyeballs.
This is a significant carrot to dangle in front of the operator community. If the global mobile operator base can unite behind RCS, they could create communities consisting of billions of people.
Creating this type of critical mass would also bode well for other features including picture sharing, location services and file sharing.
Operators can no longer expect to compete with OTTs in innovative new services offerings that are quick to market.
Instead, they must focus on offering the services that consumers now expect in order to retain subscribers.
Therefore, the business case for RCS lies not just in the eventual monetisation of services, but also in the evolution of rich communications services in order to stay relevant to their users.
It is this relevance that is of the highest importance - without it, operators will simply be left behind.